Convergent evolution in plant specialized metabolism

Annu Rev Plant Biol. 2011;62:549-66. doi: 10.1146/annurev-arplant-042110-103814.


Plants synthesize a multitude of compounds that contribute to adaptation to their ecological niches. Such compounds serve as attractants of other living organisms beneficial to the plants or as defense against other biotic as well as abiotic agents. Selection for increased fitness, a never-ending process, has resulted in each plant lineage synthesizing a distinct set of specialized metabolites appropriate for its environment. The total number of specialized metabolites found in the plant kingdom far exceeds the capacity of any one plant genome to encode the necessary enzymes, and just as a plant lineage acquires the ability to make new specialized compounds during evolution, it also loses the ability to make others. Although the ability of plants to make novel, specialized metabolites continues to evolve, there are also many examples in which different plants have independently evolved the ability to make compounds already present in other plant lineages or to make different compounds that fulfill the same role-both are examples of convergent evolution. Here, we discuss many examples of convergent evolution in specialized metabolism. There are many genetic and biochemical mechanisms that can give rise to convergent evolution, and we conclude that, overall, convergent evolution in plant specialized metabolism is surprisingly common.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Adaptation, Physiological
  • Biological Evolution*
  • Plants / chemistry
  • Plants / genetics
  • Plants / metabolism*
  • Species Specificity