This review bridges functional and evolutionary aspects of plastid chromosome architecture in land plants and their putative ancestors. We provide an overview on the structure and composition of the plastid genome of land plants as well as the functions of its genes in an explicit phylogenetic and evolutionary context. We will discuss the architecture of land plant plastid chromosomes, including gene content and synteny across land plants. Moreover, we will explore the functions and roles of plastid encoded genes in metabolism and their evolutionary importance regarding gene retention and conservation. We suggest that the slow mode at which the plastome typically evolves is likely to be influenced by a combination of different molecular mechanisms. These include the organization of plastid genes in operons, the usually uniparental mode of plastid inheritance, the activity of highly effective repair mechanisms as well as the rarity of plastid fusion. Nevertheless, structurally rearranged plastomes can be found in several unrelated lineages (e.g. ferns, Pinaceae, multiple angiosperm families). Rearrangements and gene losses seem to correlate with an unusual mode of plastid transmission, abundance of repeats, or a heterotrophic lifestyle (parasites or myco-heterotrophs). While only a few functional gene gains and more frequent gene losses have been inferred for land plants, the plastid Ndh complex is one example of multiple independent gene losses and will be discussed in detail. Patterns of ndh-gene loss and functional analyses indicate that these losses are usually found in plant groups with a certain degree of heterotrophy, might rendering plastid encoded Ndh1 subunits dispensable.
© The Author(s) 2011. This article is published with open access at Springerlink.com