Duplicative transfer of a MADS box gene to a plant Y chromosome
Y chromosomes carry genes with functions in male reproduction and often have few other loci. Their evolution and the causes of genetic degeneration are of great interest. In addition to genetic degeneration, the acquisition of autosomal genes may be important in Y chromosome evolution. We here report that the dioecious plant Silene latifolia harbors a complete MADS box gene, SlAP3Y, duplicated onto the Y chromosome. This gene has no X-linked homologs but only an autosomal paralog, SlAP3A, and sequence divergence suggests that the duplication is a quite old event that occur-red soon after the evolution of the sex chromosomes. Evolutionary sequence analyses using homologs of closely related species, including hermaphroditic Silene conica and dioccious Silene dioica and Silene diclinis, suggest that both SlAP3A and SIAP3Y genes encode functional proteins. Indeed, quantitative RT-PCR and in situ hybridization analyses showed that SlAP3A is expressed specifically in developing petals, but SlAP3Y is much more strongly expressed in developing stamens. The S. conica homolog, ScAP3A, is expressed in developing petals, suggesting subfunctionalization with evolution of male-specific functions, possibly due to evolutionary change in regulatory elements. Our results suggest that the acquisition of autosomal genes is an important event in the evolution of plant Y chromosomes.