Flowers get their colors through predictable genetic changes

The amazing diversity of flower colors among species is often controlled by a predictable set of genes, suggesting that evolution may be repeatable.

In a review of the published literature, researchers from the University of Oregon revealed that mutations in a single gene are responsible for much of this diversity. Although mutations in at least ten genes are capable of causing similar changes in color, mutations in only one of these genes are believed to be preferentially targeted by natural selection.

This is thought to occur because this gene is only active in the flower, suggesting that its mutations have fewer detrimental side effects than other genes that affect the plant more broadly.

This research further explores the mechanisms that drive this diversity of floral forms and finds that experimental predictions are upheld for comparisons involving multiple evolutionary scales and histories.

These results demonstrate that the convergence of flower color evolution among distantly related species is frequently the result of mutations in the same gene, which provides insight into the processes that affect how novel traits are formed.

Article: Flower color as a model system for studies of plant evo-devo, Frontiers in Plant Science, DOI: 10.3389/fpls.2013.00321