Phylogenomic analysis of gene co-expression networks reveals the evolution of functional modules

Plant J. 2017 May;90(3):447-465. doi: 10.1111/tpj.13502. Epub 2017 Mar 23.


Molecular evolutionary studies correlate genomic and phylogenetic information with the emergence of new traits of organisms. These traits are, however, the consequence of dynamic gene networks composed of functional modules, which might not be captured by genomic analyses. Here, we established a method that combines large-scale genomic and phylogenetic data with gene co-expression networks to extensively study the evolutionary make-up of modules in the moss Physcomitrella patens, and in the angiosperms Arabidopsis thaliana and Oryza sativa (rice). We first show that younger genes are less annotated than older genes. By mapping genomic data onto the co-expression networks, we found that genes from the same evolutionary period tend to be connected, whereas old and young genes tend to be disconnected. Consequently, the analysis revealed modules that emerged at a specific time in plant evolution. To uncover the evolutionary relationships of the modules that are conserved across the plant kingdom, we added phylogenetic information that revealed duplication and speciation events on the module level. This combined analysis revealed an independent duplication of cell wall modules in bryophytes and angiosperms, suggesting a parallel evolution of cell wall pathways in land plants. We provide an online tool allowing plant researchers to perform these analyses at

Keywords: Arabidopsis thaliana; Oryza sativa; Physcomitrella patens; comparative co-expression; gene function; network evolution; phylogenetics; phylostratigraphy.

MeSH terms

  • Arabidopsis / genetics
  • Arabidopsis / metabolism
  • Bryopsida / genetics
  • Bryopsida / metabolism
  • Evolution, Molecular
  • Oryza / genetics
  • Oryza / metabolism
  • Phylogeny
  • Plant Proteins / genetics
  • Plant Proteins / metabolism*


  • Plant Proteins