Plant disease resistance genes (R genes) encode proteins that function to monitor signals indicating pathogenic infection, thus playing a critical role in the plant's defense system. Although many studies have been performed to explore the functional details of these important genes, their origin and evolutionary history remain unclear. In this study, focusing on the largest group of R genes, the nucleotide-binding site-leucine-rich repeat (NBS-LRR) genes, we conducted an extensive genome-wide survey of 38 representative model organisms and obtained insights into the evolutionary stage and timing of NBS-LRR genes. Our data show that the two major domains, NBS and LRR, existed before the split of prokaryotes and eukaryotes but their fusion was observed only in land plant lineages. The Toll/interleukin-1 receptor (TIR) class of NBS-LRR genes probably had an earlier origin than its nonTIR counterpart. The similarities of the innate immune systems of plants and animals are likely to have been shaped by convergent evolution after their independent origins. Our findings start to unravel the evolutionary history of these important genes from the perspective of comparative genomics and also highlight the important role of reorganizing pre-existing building blocks in generating evolutionary novelties.
© 2011 The Authors. New Phytologist © 2011 New Phytologist Trust.