Intra- and interspecific variation in flower color is a hallmark of angiosperm diversity. The evolutionary forces underlying the variety of flower colors can be nearly as diverse as the colors themselves. In addition to pollinator preferences, non-pollinator agents of selection can have a major influence on the evolution of flower color polymorphisms, especially when the pigments in question are also expressed in vegetative tissues. In such cases, identifying the target(s) of selection starts with determining the biochemical and molecular basis for the flower color variation and examining any pleiotropic effects manifested in vegetative tissues. Herein, we describe a widespread purple-white flower color polymorphism in the mustard Parrya nudicaulis spanning Alaska. The frequency of white-flowered individuals increases with increasing growing-season temperature, consistent with the role of anthocyanin pigments in stress tolerance. White petals fail to produce the stress responsive flavonoid intermediates in the anthocyanin biosynthetic pathway (ABP), suggesting an early pathway blockage. Petal cDNA sequences did not reveal blockages in any of the eight enzyme-coding genes in white-flowered individuals, nor any color differentiating SNPs. A qRT-PCR analysis of white petals identified a 24-fold reduction in chalcone synthase (CHS) at the threshold of the ABP, but no change in CHS expression in leaves and sepals. This arctic species has avoided the deleterious effects associated with the loss of flavonoid intermediates in vegetative tissues by decoupling CHS expression in petals and leaves, yet the correlation of flower color and climate suggests that the loss of flavonoids in the petals alone may affect the tolerance of white-flowered individuals to colder environments.
Arctic Mustard Flower Color Polymorphism Controlled by Petal-Specific Downregulation at the Threshold of the Anthocyanin Biosynthetic Pathway. Dick CA, Buenrostro J, Butler T, Carlson ML, Kliebenstein DJ, et al. (2011) PLoS ONE 6(4): e18230. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0018230
Funding was provided by NSF IPY (to JBW & MLC), Santa Clara University Department of Biology & Technology Funds (JBW), and the DeNardo Senior Prize (TB). The funders had no role in study design, data collection and analysis, decision to publish, or preparation of the manuscript.