A comparative study across the parasitic plants of Cuscuta subgenus Grammica (Convolvulaceae) reveals a possible loss of the plastid genome in its section Subulatae

Planta. 2023 Feb 24;257(4):66. doi: 10.1007/s00425-023-04099-y.


Most species in Cuscuta subgenus Grammica retain many photosynthesis-related plastid genes, generally under purifying selection. A group of holoparasitic species in section Subulatae may have lost their plastid genomes entirely. The c. 153 species of plants belonging to Cuscuta subgenus Grammica are all obligate stem parasites. However, some have completely lost the ability to conduct photosynthesis while others retain photosynthetic machinery and genes. The plastid genome that primarily encodes key photosynthesis genes functions as a bellwether for how reliant plants are on primary production. This research assembles and analyses 17 plastomes across Cuscuta subgenus Grammica with the aim of characterizing the state of the plastome in each of its sections. By comparing the structure and content of plastid genomes across the subgenus, as well as by quantifying the selection acting upon each gene, we reconstructed the patterns of plastome change within the phylogenetic context for this group. We found that species in 13 of the 15 sections that comprise Grammica retain the bulk of plastid photosynthesis genes and are thus hemiparasitic. The complete loss of photosynthesis can be traced to two clades: the entire section Subulatae and a complex of three species within section Ceratophorae. We were unable to recover any significant plastome sequences from section Subulatae, suggesting that plastomes in these species are either drastically reduced or lost entirely.

Keywords: Cuscuta; Dodder; Grammica; Heterotrophy; Parasite; Parasitic plants; Photosynthesis; Plastid; Plastome.

MeSH terms

  • Convolvulaceae* / genetics
  • Cuscuta*
  • Genes, Plant
  • Genome, Plastid*
  • Phylogeny
  • Plants / genetics