8 May 2023

Loss of ancestral function in duckweed roots is accompanied by progressive anatomical reduction and a re-distribution of nutrient transporters,

Alexander Ware, Dylan H. Jones, Paulina Flis, Elina Chrysanthou, Kellie E. Smith, Britta M.C. Kümpers, Levi Yant, Jonathan A. Atkinson, Darren M. Wells, Rahul Bhosale, Anthony Bishopp - Current Biology, 2023


Organ loss occurs frequently during plant and animal evolution. Sometimes, non-functional organs are retained through evolution. Vestigial organs are defined as genetically determined structures that have lost their ancestral (or salient) function.1,2,3 Duckweeds, an aquatic monocot family, exhibit both these characteristics. They possess a uniquely simple body plan, variably across five genera, two of which are rootless. Due to the existence of closely related species with a wide diversity in rooting strategies, duckweed roots represent a powerful system for investigating vestigiality. To explore this, we employed a panel of physiological, ionomic, and transcriptomic analyses, with the main goal of elucidating the extent of vestigiality in duckweed roots. We uncovered a progressive reduction in root anatomy as genera diverge and revealed that the root has lost its salient ancestral function as an organ required for supplying nutrients to the plant. Accompanying this, nutrient transporter expression patterns have lost the stereotypical root biased localization observed in other plant species. While other examples of organ loss such as limbs in reptiles4 or eyes in cavefish5 frequently display a binary of presence/absence, duckweeds provide a unique snapshot of an organ with varying degrees of vestigialization in closely related neighbors and thus provide a unique resource for exploration of how organs behave at different stages along the process of loss.

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