Molecular and functional evolution of class i chitinases for plant carnivory in the caryophyllales

Tanya Renner, Chelsea D. Specht

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

42 Scopus citations


Proteins produced by the large and diverse chitinase gene family are involved in the hydrolyzation of glycosidic bonds in chitin, a polymer of N-acetylglucosamines. In flowering plants, class I chitinases are important pathogenesis-related proteins, functioning in the determent of herbivory and pathogen attack by acting on insect exoskeletons and fungal cell walls. Within the carnivorous plants, two subclasses of class I chitinases have been identified to play a role in the digestion of prey. Members of these two subclasses, depending on the presence or absence of a C-terminal extension, can be secreted from specialized digestive glands found within the morphologically diverse traps that develop from carnivorous plant leaves. The degree of homology among carnivorous plant class I chitinases and the method by which these enzymes have been adapted for the carnivorous habit has yet to be elucidated. This study focuses on understanding the evolution of carnivory and chitinase genes in one of the major groups of plants that has evolved the carnivorous habit: the Caryophyllales. We recover novel class I chitinase homologs from species of genera Ancistrocladus, Dionaea, Drosera, Nepenthes, and Triphyophyllum, while also confirming the presence of two subclasses of class I chitinases based upon sequence homology and phylogenetic affinity to class I chitinases available from sequenced angiosperm genomes. We further detect residues under positive selection and reveal substitutions specific to carnivorous plant class I chitinases. These substitutions may confer functional differences as indicated by protein structure homology modeling.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)2971-2985
Number of pages15
JournalMolecular biology and evolution
Issue number10
StatePublished - Oct 2012

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Molecular Biology
  • Genetics


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