Repeated Inactivation of the First Committed Enzyme Underlies the Loss of Benzaldehyde Emission after the Selfing Transition in Capsella

Curr Biol. 2016 Dec 19;26(24):3313-3319. doi: 10.1016/j.cub.2016.10.026. Epub 2016 Dec 1.


The enormous species richness of flowering plants is at least partly due to floral diversification driven by interactions between plants and their animal pollinators [1, 2]. Specific pollinator attraction relies on visual and olfactory floral cues [3-5]; floral scent can not only attract pollinators but also attract or repel herbivorous insects [6-8]. However, despite its central role for plant-animal interactions, the genetic control of floral scent production and its evolutionary modification remain incompletely understood [9-13]. Benzenoids are an important class of floral scent compounds that are generated from phenylalanine via several enzymatic pathways [14-17]. Here we address the genetic basis of the loss of floral scent associated with the transition from outbreeding to selfing in the genus Capsella. While the outbreeding C. grandiflora emits benzaldehyde as a major constituent of its floral scent, this has been lost in the selfing C. rubella. We identify the Capsella CNL1 gene encoding cinnamate:CoA ligase as responsible for this variation. Population genetic analysis indicates that CNL1 has been inactivated twice independently in C. rubella via different novel mutations to its coding sequence. Together with a recent study in Petunia [18], this identifies cinnamate:CoA ligase as an evolutionary hotspot for mutations causing the loss of benzenoid scent compounds in association with a shift in the reproductive strategy of Capsella from pollination by insects to self-fertilization.

Keywords: Capsella; benzaldehyde; cinnamate:CoA ligase; floral scent; selfing syndrome; shepherd’s purse.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Benzaldehydes / chemistry
  • Benzaldehydes / metabolism*
  • Biological Evolution
  • Capsella / enzymology*
  • Capsella / genetics*
  • Gene Expression Regulation, Enzymologic
  • Gene Expression Regulation, Plant
  • Inbreeding
  • Insecta
  • Ligases / genetics
  • Ligases / metabolism*
  • Odorants
  • Phylogeny
  • Plant Proteins / genetics
  • Plant Proteins / metabolism*
  • Pollination
  • Quantitative Trait Loci


  • Benzaldehydes
  • Plant Proteins
  • Ligases
  • benzaldehyde