Plant MADS-box genes encode transcriptional regulators that are critical for a number of developmental processes. In the angiosperms (the flowering plants), these include the specification of floral organ identities, flowering time and fruit development. It appears that the MADS box gene family has undergone considerable gene duplication and sequence divergence within the angiosperms. Here I discuss the possibility that these events have allowed the recruitment of these genes to new developmental pathways in particular angiosperm lineages. Recent analyses of sequence changes, expression patterns and, in a few cases, gene function are beginning to provide tantalizing evidence for deciphering when and how such genetic diversification has led to particular morphological innovations. In the future, comparative studies of large numbers of species will be required to assess the extent of such variation as well as to fully understand the mechanisms by which evolution of these developmental regulators has played a role in shaping new morphologies.
Copyright 2003 Wiley Periodicals, Inc.