The specification of floral organ identity during development depends on the function of a limited number of homeotic genes grouped into three classes: A, B, and C. Pairs of paralogous B class genes, such as DEF and GLO in Antirrhinum, and AP3 and PI in Arabidopsis, are required for establishing petal and stamen identity. To gain a better understanding of the evolutionary origin of petals and stamens, we have looked for orthologs of B class genes in conifers. Here we report cDNA cloning of PrDGL (Pinus radiata DEF/GLO-like gene) from radiata pine. We provide phylogenetic evidence that PrDGL is closely related to both DEF- and GLO-like genes of angiosperms, and is thus among the first putative orthologs of floral homeotic B function genes ever reported from a gymnosperm. Expression of PrDGL is restricted to the pollen strobili (male cones) and was not detected in female cones. PrDGL expression was first detected in emergent male cone primordia and persisted through the early stages of pollen cone bud differentiation. Based on the results of our phylogeny reconstructions and expression studies, we suggest that PrDGL could play a role in distinguishing between male (where expression is on) and female reproductive structures (where expression is off) in radiata pine. We speculate that this could be the general function of DEF/GLO-like genes in gymnosperms that may have been recruited for the distinction between stamens and carpels, the male and female reproductive organs of flowering plants, during the evolution of angiosperms out of gymnosperm-like ancestors.
Copyright 1999 Wiley-Liss, Inc.