From: Kobe University
Published February 14, 2017 10:49 AM

Genes in albino orchids may hold clues to parasitic mechanism used by non-photosynthetic plants

How do plants give up photosynthesis and become parasites? A research team in Japan are using comprehensive analysis of gene expression in albino and green orchids to investigate the evolution of parasitic plant.

The research was carried out by Project Associate Professor SUETSUGU Kenji (Kobe University Graduate School of Science), Associate Professor KAMINAKA Hironori and Research Fellow MIURA Chihiro (Tottori University Faculty of Agriculture), Associate Professor YAMATO Masahide (Chiba University Faculty of Education), and Special Associate Professor SHIGENOBU Shuji (National Institute for Basic Biology).

Spontaneous mutation resulting in loss of chlorophyll is a phenomenon seen among many plant species. In normal plant species, albino mutations that lack chlorophyll wither after using up the nutrients stored in their seeds, but albinos of semi-parasitic species can continue to grow and even produce flowers. These albino plants, lacking chlorophyll, become totally dependent on fungi for their survival.

Plants that have abandoned photosynthesis and feed off the roots of mushrooms and other fungi are known as mycoheterotrophs. Most mycoheterotrophs are a long way genetically from even their closest autotrophic plants. In addition to the evolutionary adaptation that enabled their parasitic lifestyle, they have various other mutations, making it hard to pinpoint which gene group helped them to gain their parasitic abilities.

Read more at Kobe University

Photo credit: Kobe University

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