Expansin gene loss is a common occurrence during adaptation to an aquatic environment

Nathan K. Hepler, Alexa Bowman, Robert E. Carey, Daniel J. Cosgrove

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

11 Scopus citations


Expansins comprise a superfamily of plant cell wall loosening proteins that can be divided into four individual families (EXPA, EXPB, EXLA and EXLB). Aside from inferred roles in a variety of plant growth and developmental traits, little is known regarding the function of specific expansin clades, for which there are at least 16 in flowering plants (angiosperms); however, there is evidence to suggest that some expansins have cell-specific functions, in root hair and pollen tube development, for example. Recently, two duckweed genomes have been sequenced (Spirodela polyrhiza strains 7498 and 9509), revealing significantly reduced superfamily sizes. We hypothesized that there would be a correlation between expansin loss and morphological reductions seen among highly adapted aquatic species. In order to provide an answer to this question, we characterized the expansin superfamilies of the greater duckweed Spirodela, the marine eelgrass Zostera marina and the bladderwort Utricularia gibba. We discovered rampant expansin gene and clade loss among the three, including a complete absence of the EXLB family and EXPA-VII. The most convincing correlation between morphological reduction and expansin loss was seen for Utricularia and Spirodela, which both lack root hairs and the root hair expansin clade EXPA-X. Contrary to the pattern observed in other species, four Utricularia expansins failed to branch within any clade, suggesting that they may be the result of neofunctionalization. Last, an expansin clade previously discovered only in eudicots was identified in Spirodela, allowing us to conclude that the last common ancestor of monocots and eudicots contained a minimum of 17 expansins.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)666-680
Number of pages15
JournalPlant Journal
Issue number3
StatePublished - Feb 1 2020

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Genetics
  • Plant Science
  • Cell Biology


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