Background: RLSB, an S-1 domain RNA binding protein of Arabidopsis, selectively binds rbcL mRNA and co-localizes with Ribulose-1,5-bisphosphate carboxylase/oxygenase (Rubisco) within chloroplasts of C3 and C4 plants. Previous studies using both Arabidopsis (C3) and maize (C4) suggest RLSB homologs are post-transcriptional regulators of plastid-encoded rbcL mRNA. While RLSB accumulates in all Arabidopsis leaf chlorenchyma cells, in C4 leaves RLSB-like proteins accumulate only within Rubisco-containing bundle sheath chloroplasts of Kranz-type species, and only within central compartment chloroplasts in the single cell C4 plant Bienertia. Our recent evidence implicates this mRNA binding protein as a primary determinant of rbcL expression, cellular localization/compartmentalization, and photosynthetic function in all multicellular green plants. This study addresses the hypothesis that RLSB is a highly conserved Rubisco regulatory factor that occurs in the chloroplasts all higher plants.
Results: Phylogenetic analysis has identified RLSB orthologs and paralogs in all major plant groups, from ancient liverworts to recent angiosperms. RLSB homologs were also identified in algae of the division Charophyta, a lineage closely related to land plants. RLSB-like sequences were not identified in any other algae, suggesting that it may be specific to the evolutionary line leading to land plants. The RLSB family occurs in single copy across most angiosperms, although a few species with two copies were identified, seemingly randomly distributed throughout the various taxa, although perhaps correlating in some cases with known ancient whole genome duplications. Monocots of the order Poales (Poaceae and Cyperaceae) were found to contain two copies, designated here as RLSB-a and RLSB-b, with only RLSB-a implicated in the regulation of rbcL across the maize developmental gradient. Analysis of microsynteny in angiosperms revealed high levels of conservation across eudicot species and for both paralogs in grasses, highlighting the possible importance of maintaining this gene and its surrounding genomic regions.
Conclusions: Findings presented here indicate that the RLSB family originated as a unique gene in land plant evolution, perhaps in the common ancestor of charophytes and higher plants. Purifying selection has maintained this as a highly conserved single- or two-copy gene across most extant species, with several conserved gene duplications. Together with previous findings, this study suggests that RLSB has been sustained as an important regulatory protein throughout the course of land plant evolution. While only RLSB-a has been directly implicated in rbcL regulation in maize, RLSB-b could have an overlapping function in the co-regulation of rbcL, or may have diverged as a regulator of one or more other plastid-encoded mRNAs. This analysis confirms that RLSB is an important and unique photosynthetic regulatory protein that has been continuously expressed in land plants as they emerged and diversified from their ancient common ancestor.
Keywords: Duplication in grasses; Gene loss; Land plant evolution; Microsynteny; Photosynthesis; Rubisco rbcL gene expression; S1 domain RNA binding protein; Single copy gene; Whole genome duplication.