Patterns of evolutionary rate variation among genes of the anthocyanin biosynthetic pathway

Mark D. Rausher, Richard E. Miller, Peter Tiffin

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174 Scopus citations


The anthocyanin biosynthetic pathway is responsible for the production of anthocyanin pigments in plant tissues and shares a number of enzymes with other biochemical pathways. The six core structural genes of this pathway have been cloned and characterized in two taxonomically diverse plant species (maize and snapdragon). We have recently cloned these genes for a third species, the common morning glory, Ipomoea purpurea. This additional information provides an opportunity to examine patterns of evolution among genes within a single biochemical pathway. We report here that upstream genes in the anthocyanin pathway have evolved substantially more slowly than downstream genes and suggest that this difference in evolutionary rates may be explained by upstream genes being more constrained because they participate in several different biochemical pathways. In addition, regulatory genes associated with the anthocyanin pathway tend to evolve more rapidly than the structural genes they regulate, suggesting that adaptive evolution of flower color may be mediated more by regulatory than by structural genes. Finally, for individual anthocyanin genes, we found an absence of rate heterogeneity among three major angiosperm lineages. This rate constancy contrasts with an accelerated rate of evolution of three CHS- like genes in the Ipomoea lineage, indicating that these three genes have diverged without coordinated adjustment by other pathway genes.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)266-274
Number of pages9
JournalMolecular biology and evolution
Issue number2
StatePublished - Feb 1999


  • Anthocyanin
  • Evolutionary rates
  • Flavonoids
  • Metabolic pathways


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