The morphological variation among reproductive organs of extant gymnosperms is remarkable, especially among conifers. Several hypotheses concerning morphological homology between various conifer reproductive organs have been put forward, in particular in relation to the pine ovuliferous scale. Here, we use the expression patterns of orthologs of the ABC-model MADS-box gene AGAMOUS (AG) for testing morphological homology hypotheses related to organs of the conifer female cone. To this end, we first developed a tailored 3'RACE procedure that allows reliable amplification of partial sequences highly similar to gymnosperm-derived members of the AG-subfamily of MADS-box genes. Expression patterns of two novel conifer AG orthologs cloned with this procedure-namely PodAG and TgAG, obtained from the podocarp Podocarpus reichei and the yew Taxus globosa, respectively-are then further characterized in the morphologically divergent female cones of these species. The expression patterns of PodAG and TgAG are compared with those of DAL2, a previously discovered Picea abies (Pinaceae) AG ortholog. By treating the expression patterns of DAL2, PodAG, and TgAG as character states mapped onto currently accepted cladogram topologies, we suggest that the epimatium-that is, the podocarp female cone organ previously postulated as a "modified" ovuliferous scale-and the canonical Pinaceae ovuliferous scale can be legitimally conceptualized as "primary homologs." Character state mapping for TgAG suggests in turn that the aril of Taxaceae should be considered as a different type of organ. This work demonstrates how the interaction between developmental-genetic data and formal cladistic theory could fruitfully contribute to gymnosperm systematics.
© 2011 Wiley Periodicals, Inc.