Comparative transcriptome analyses reveal core parasitism genes and suggest gene duplication and repurposing as sources of structural novelty

Zhenzhen Yang, Eric K. Wafula, Loren A. Honaas, Huiting Zhang, Malay Das, Monica Fernandez-Aparicio, Kan Huang, Pradeepa C.G. Bandaranayake, Biao Wu, Joshua P. Der, Christopher R. Clarke, Paula E. Ralph, Lena Landherr, Naomi S. Altman, Michael P. Timko, John I. Yoder, James H. Westwood, Claude W. DePamphilis

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

102 Scopus citations


The origin of novel traits is recognized as an important process underlying many major evolutionary radiations. We studied the genetic basis for the evolution of haustoria, the novel feeding organs of parasitic flowering plants, using comparative transcriptome sequencing in three species of Orobanchaceae. Around 180 genes are upregulated during haustorial development following host attachment in at least two species, and these are enriched in proteases, cell wall modifying enzymes, and extracellular secretion proteins. Additionally, about 100 shared genes are upregulated in response to haustorium inducing factors prior to host attachment. Collectively, we refer to these newly identified genes as putative "parasitism genes." Most of these parasitism genes are derived from gene duplications in a common ancestor of Orobanchaceae and Mimulus guttatus, a related nonparasitic plant. Additionally, the signature of relaxed purifying selection and/or adaptive evolution at specific sites was detected in many haustorial genes, and may play an important role in parasite evolution. Comparative analysis of gene expression patterns in parasitic and nonparasitic angiosperms suggests that parasitism genes are derived primarily from root and floral tissues, but with some genes co-opted from other tissues. Gene duplication, often taking place in a nonparasitic ancestor of Orobanchaceae, followed by regulatory neofunctionalization, was an important process in the origin of parasitic haustoria.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)767-790
Number of pages24
JournalMolecular biology and evolution
Issue number3
StatePublished - Mar 1 2015

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Molecular Biology
  • Genetics


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