Evolving Ideas on the Origin and Evolution of Flowers: New Perspectives in the Genomic Era

April 18th, 2016
By Gitzendanner, Matt

Chanderbali, A. S., B. A. Berger, D. G. Howarth, P. S. Soltis, and D. E. Soltis. 2016. Evolving Ideas on the Origin and Evolution of Flowers: New Perspectives in the Genomic Era. Genetics 202:1255–1265. [View on publisher’s site]

Figure 3 from Chanderbali et al 2016.

Floral variation in ANA grade, magnoliid, and basal eudicot angiosperms. Figure 3 from Chanderbali et al 2016.


The origin of the flower was a key innovation in the history of complex organisms, dramatically altering Earth’s biota. Advances in phylogenetics, developmental genetics, and genomics during the past 25 years have substantially advanced our understanding of the evolution of flowers, yet crucial aspects of floral evolution remain, such as the series of genetic and morphological changes that gave rise to the first flowers; the factors enabling the origin of the pentamerous eudicot flower, which characterizes ∼70% of all extant angiosperm species; and the role of gene and genome duplications in facilitating floral innovations. A key early concept was the ABC model of floral organ specification, developed by Elliott Meyerowitz and Enrico Coen and based on two model systems, Arabidopsis thaliana and Antirrhinum majus. Yet it is now clear that these model systems are highly derived species, whose molecular genetic-developmental organization must be very different from that of ancestral, as well as early, angiosperms. In this article, we will discuss how new research approaches are illuminating the early events in floral evolution and the prospects for further progress. In particular, advancing the next generation of research in floral evolution will require the development of one or more functional model systems from among the basal angiosperms and basal eudicots. More broadly, we urge the development of “model clades” for genomic and evolutionary-developmental analyses, instead of the primary use of single “model organisms.” We predict that new evolutionary models will soon emerge as genetic/genomic models, providing unprecedented new insights into floral evolution.

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