Sunday, August 20, 2006

 

Snapdragons take the evolutionary high-road

Antirrhinum Snapdragon Color Colour Variation (Evolution Research: John Latter / Jorolat) Roses are red, violets are blue, but why aren't snapdragons orange? Norwich scientists from the John Innes Centre (JIC) and the University of East Anglia (UEA) in collaboration with the University Paul Sabatier (Toulouse, France) have developed a pioneering computer modelling technique that traces the evolutionary paths underlying flower colour variation in the model plant snapdragon (Antirrhinum).

Their research, funded by the BBSRC and published today in the journal Science ("Evolutionary Paths Underlying Flower Color Variation in Antirrhinum": Abstract), shows how flower colour diversity has evolved in natural populations of these plants in the Pyrenees.

In the wild, only the plants with the most attractive flower colours are able to reproduce and thrive because the insects that pollinate them prefer certain colours. The bees that pollinate snapdragon find magenta and yellow flowers the most attractive; they do not find colours such as orange attractive and so flowers of this colour would not flourish in the wild due to lack of pollination. Scientists already know that natural colour variation is controlled by three genes: ROSEA and ELUTA affect the intensity and pattern of the magenta pigment anthocyanin and thirdly SULFUREA affects the distribution of the yellow aurone pigment. The researchers in this study wanted to understand how plants producing magenta or yellow flowers could evolve from a common ancestor without producing in-between non-attractive flower colours such as orange.

"This is a totally different way of looking at evolution and could lead to a better understanding of the rules that govern biodiversity" explains Coen, "If we can comprehend how Antirrhinum genes interact in their natural habitat, it may help us in the future to better preserve genetic diversity".

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