Plant polygalacturonases (PGs) are involved in cell separation processes during many stages of plant development. Investigation into the diversification of this large gene family in land plants could shed light on the evolution of structural development. We conducted whole-genome annotation, molecular evolution and gene expression analyses of PG genes in five species of land plant: Populus, Arabidopsis, rice, Selaginella and Physcomitrella. We identified 75, 44, 16 and 11 PG genes from Populus, rice, Selaginella and Physcomitrella genomes, respectively, which were divided into three classes. We inferred rapid expansion of class I PG genes in Populus, Arabidopsis and rice, while copy numbers of classes II and III PG genes were relatively conserved in all five species. Populus, Arabidopsis and rice class I PG genes were under more relaxed selection constraints than class II PG genes, while this selective pressure divergence was not observed in Selaginella and Physcomitrella PG families. In addition, class I PG genes underwent marked expression divergence in Populus, rice and Selaginella. Our results suggest that PG gene expansion occurred after the divergence of the lycophytes and euphyllophytes, and this expansion was likely paralleled by the evolution of increasingly complex organs in land plants.
© 2013 The Authors. New Phytologist © 2013 New Phytologist Trust.