Many organisms exhibit visually striking spotted or striped pigmentation patterns. Developmental models predict that such spatial patterns can form when a local autocatalytic feedback loop and a long-range inhibitory feedback loop interact. At its simplest, this self-organizing network only requires one self-activating activator that also activates a repressor, which inhibits the activator and diffuses to neighboring cells. However, the molecular activators and inhibitors fully fitting this versatile model remain elusive in pigmentation systems. Here, we characterize an R2R3-MYB activator and an R3-MYB repressor in monkeyflowers (Mimulus). Through experimental perturbation and mathematical modeling, we demonstrate that the properties of these two proteins correspond to an activator-inhibitor pair in a two-component, reaction-diffusion system, explaining the formation of dispersed anthocyanin spots in monkeyflower petals. Notably, disrupting this pattern impacts pollinator visitation. Thus, subtle changes in simple activator-inhibitor systems are likely essential contributors to the evolution of the remarkable diversity of pigmentation patterns in flowers.
Keywords: Erythranthe; Mimulus; anthocyanin; developmental patterning; flower color; genome editing; monkeyflower; natural variation; pigmentation; reaction-diffusion.
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