Genetic analysis of floral symmetry in Van Gogh's sunflowers reveals independent recruitment of CYCLOIDEA genes in the Asteraceae

PLoS Genet. 2012;8(3):e1002628. doi: 10.1371/journal.pgen.1002628. Epub 2012 Mar 29.


The genetic basis of floral symmetry is a topic of great interest because of its effect on pollinator behavior and, consequently, plant diversification. The Asteraceae, which is the largest family of flowering plants, is an ideal system in which to study this trait, as many species within the family exhibit a compound inflorescence containing both bilaterally symmetric (i.e., zygomorphic) and radially symmetric (i.e., actinomorphic) florets. In sunflower and related species, the inflorescence is composed of a single whorl of ray florets surrounding multiple whorls of disc florets. We show that in double-flowered (dbl) sunflower mutants (in which disc florets develop bilateral symmetry), such as those captured by Vincent van Gogh in his famous nineteenth-century sunflower paintings, an insertion into the promoter region of a CYCLOIDEA (CYC)-like gene (HaCYC2c) that is normally expressed specifically in WT rays is instead expressed throughout the inflorescence, presumably resulting in the observed loss of actinomorphy. This same gene is mutated in two independent tubular-rayed (tub) mutants, though these mutations involve apparently recent transposon insertions, resulting in little or no expression and radialization of the normally zygomorphic ray florets. Interestingly, a phylogenetic analysis of CYC-like genes from across the family suggests that different paralogs of this fascinating gene family have been independently recruited to specify zygomorphy in different species within the Asteraceae.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Asteraceae
  • DNA Transposable Elements / genetics
  • DNA-Binding Proteins / genetics
  • Evolution, Molecular
  • Flowers* / anatomy & histology
  • Flowers* / genetics
  • Gene Expression Regulation, Plant
  • Helianthus* / anatomy & histology
  • Helianthus* / genetics
  • Molecular Sequence Data
  • Morphogenesis / genetics
  • Mutagenesis, Insertional / genetics
  • Phenotype
  • Phylogeny
  • Plant Proteins / genetics*
  • Promoter Regions, Genetic*
  • Transcription Factors / genetics


  • DNA Transposable Elements
  • DNA-Binding Proteins
  • Plant Proteins
  • Transcription Factors
  • cycloidea protein, Antirrhinum

Associated data

  • GENBANK/HQ891026
  • GENBANK/HQ891027
  • GENBANK/HQ891028
  • GENBANK/HQ891029
  • GENBANK/JF299240
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  • GENBANK/JQ594982
  • GENBANK/JQ594983