Dynamics and adaptive benefits of protein domain emergence and arrangements during plant genome evolution

Genome Biol Evol. 2012;4(3):316-29. doi: 10.1093/gbe/evs004. Epub 2012 Jan 16.


Plant genomes are generally very large, mostly paleopolyploid, and have numerous gene duplicates and complex genomic features such as repeats and transposable elements. Many of these features have been hypothesized to enable plants, which cannot easily escape environmental challenges, to rapidly adapt. Another mechanism, which has recently been well described as a major facilitator of rapid adaptation in bacteria, animals, and fungi but not yet for plants, is modular rearrangement of protein-coding genes. Due to the high precision of profile-based methods, rearrangements can be well captured at the protein level by characterizing the emergence, loss, and rearrangements of protein domains, their structural, functional, and evolutionary building blocks. Here, we study the dynamics of domain rearrangements and explore their adaptive benefit in 27 plant and 3 algal genomes. We use a phylogenomic approach by which we can explain the formation of 88% of all arrangements by single-step events, such as fusion, fission, and terminal loss of domains. We find many domains are lost along every lineage, but at least 500 domains are novel, that is, they are unique to green plants and emerged more or less recently. These novel domains duplicate and rearrange more readily within their genomes than ancient domains and are overproportionally involved in stress response and developmental innovations. Novel domains more often affect regulatory proteins and show a higher degree of structural disorder than ancient domains. Whereas a relatively large and well-conserved core set of single-domain proteins exists, long multi-domain arrangements tend to be species-specific. We find that duplicated genes are more often involved in rearrangements. Although fission events typically impact metabolic proteins, fusion events often create new signaling proteins essential for environmental sensing. Taken together, the high volatility of single domains and complex arrangements in plant genomes demonstrate the importance of modularity for environmental adaptability of plants.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Evolution, Molecular*
  • Gene Duplication / genetics
  • Genome, Plant / genetics*
  • Protein Structure, Tertiary / genetics