Plastid genome evolution in mycoheterotrophic Ericaceae

Plant Mol Biol. 2012 May;79(1-2):5-20. doi: 10.1007/s11103-012-9884-3. Epub 2012 Mar 23.


Unlike parasitic plants, which are linked to their hosts directly through haustoria, mycoheterotrophic (MHT) plants derive all or part of their water and nutrients from autothrophs via fungal mycorrhizal intermediaries. Ericaceae, the heather family, are a large and diverse group of plants known to form elaborate symbiotic relationships with mycorrhizal fungi. Using PHYA sequence data, we first investigated relationships among mycoheterotrophic Ericaceae and their close autotrophic relatives. Phylogenetic results suggest a minimum of two independent origins of MHT within this family. Additionally, a comparative investigation of plastid genomes (plastomes) grounded within this phylogenetic framework was conducted using a slot-blot Southern hybridization approach. This survey encompassed numerous lineages of Ericaceae with different life histories and trophic levels, including multiple representatives from mixotrophic Pyroleae and fully heterotrophic Monotropeae and Pterosporeae. Fifty-four probes derived from all categories of protein coding genes typically found within the plastomes of flowering plants were used. Our results indicate that the holo-mycoheterotrophic Ericaceae exhibit extensive loss of genes relating to photosynthetic function and expression of the plastome but retain genes with possible functions outside photosynthesis. Mixotrophic taxa tend to retain most genes relating to photosynthetic functions but are varied regarding the plastid ndh gene content. This investigation extends previous inferences that the loss of the NDH complex occurs prior to becoming holo-heterotrophic and it shows that the pattern of gene losses among mycoheterotrophic Ericaceae is similar to that of haustorial parasites. Additionally, we identify the most desirable candidate species for entire plastome sequencing.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Autoradiography
  • Ericaceae / enzymology
  • Ericaceae / genetics*
  • Ericaceae / microbiology*
  • Evolution, Molecular*
  • Genes, Essential / genetics
  • Genes, Plant / genetics
  • Genome, Plastid / genetics*
  • Heterotrophic Processes / genetics*
  • Likelihood Functions
  • Mycorrhizae / physiology*
  • NADH Dehydrogenase / genetics
  • Open Reading Frames / genetics
  • Photosynthesis / genetics
  • Phylogeny


  • NADH Dehydrogenase