Carbonic anhydrase and the molecular evolution of C4 photosynthesis

Plant Cell Environ. 2012 Jan;35(1):22-37. doi: 10.1111/j.1365-3040.2011.02364.x. Epub 2011 Jul 1.


C(4) photosynthesis, a biochemical CO(2)-concentrating mechanism (CCM), evolved more than 60 times within the angiosperms from C(3) ancestors. The genus Flaveria, which contains species demonstrating C(3), C(3)-C(4), C(4)-like or C(4) photosynthesis, is a model for examining the molecular evolution of the C(4) pathway. Work with carbonic anhydrase (CA), and C(3) and C(4) Flaveria congeners has added significantly to the understanding of this process. The C(4) form of CA3, a β-CA, which catalyses the first reaction in the C(4) pathway by hydrating atmospheric CO(2) to bicarbonate in the cytosol of mesophyll cells (mcs), evolved from a chloroplastic C(3) ancestor. The molecular modifications to the ancestral CA3 gene included the loss of the sequence encoding the chloroplast transit peptide, and mutations in regulatory regions that resulted in high levels of expression in the C(4) mesophyll. Analyses of the CA3 proteins and regulatory elements from Flaveria photosynthetic intermediates indicated C(4) biochemistry very likely evolved in a specific, stepwise manner in this genus. The details of the mechanisms involved in the molecular evolution of other C(4) plant β-CAs are unknown; however, comparative genetics indicate gene duplication and neofunctionalization played significant roles as they did in Flaveria.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Carbon / metabolism
  • Carbon Dioxide / metabolism
  • Carbonic Anhydrases / genetics*
  • Cleome / genetics
  • Cleome / metabolism
  • Evolution, Molecular*
  • Flaveria / enzymology
  • Flaveria / genetics*
  • Flaveria / metabolism
  • Magnoliopsida / enzymology
  • Magnoliopsida / genetics*
  • Magnoliopsida / metabolism
  • Photosynthesis / genetics*
  • Plant Proteins / genetics


  • Plant Proteins
  • Carbon Dioxide
  • Carbon
  • Carbonic Anhydrases