C4 photosynthesis suppresses the oxygenation activity of Ribulose Bisphosphate Carboxylase Oxygenase and so limits photorespiration. Although highly complex, it is estimated to have evolved in 66 plant lineages, with the vast majority lacking sequenced genomes. Transcriptomics has recently initiated assessments of the degree to which transcript abundance differs between C3 and C4 leaves, identified novel components of C4 metabolism, and also led to mathematical models explaining the repeated evolution of this complex phenotype. Evidence is accumulating that this complex and convergent phenotype is partly underpinned by parallel evolution of structural genes, but also regulatory elements in both cis and trans. Furthermore, it appears that initial events associated with acquisition of C4 traits likely represent evolutionary exaptations related to non-photosynthetic processes.
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