Tsiantis: Investigating the genetic basis for predictability of morphological evolution of plant leaves

This project will be supervised by Miltos Tsiantis at the Max Planck Institute for Plant Breeding Research


Plant leaves offer attractive opportunities for studying the genetic basis for evolutionary change because (i) they show substantial heritable morphological variation and (ii) their shapes evolve in close correspondence with the environment indicating their role to physiological adaptations of plants. Recent information also suggests that mechanisms underlying diversification of leaf shape are to some degree predictable. Specifically, two classes of homeobox genes are repeatedly deployed to support evolutionary shifts in leaf form, with the pleiotropy of these genes also influencing their potential to contribute to evolutionary change. Here we propose to investigate the mechanistic basis and limits of this predictability in the Brassicaceae family. We will ask whether two independent instances of a difference between simple and complex leaves are caused by similar gene expression signatures and whether these homeobox transcription factors promote leaf complexity by acting through the same downstream genes and protein partners in different species. The project will make use of comparative ChIP-Seq, snRNA-Seq, study of protein-protein interactions as well as interspecific gene transfers and comparative mutant analysis. We will determine to what degree equivalent morphological shifts during crucifer evolution have a similar genetic basis. This will be a key advance in understanding the genetic basis for evolutionary change in plants.

Group homepage: https://www.mpipz.mpg.de/tsiantis

Key publication: Wang Y, Strauss S, Liu S, Pieper B, Lymbouridou R, Runions A, Tsiantis M. The cellular basis for synergy between RCO and KNOX1 homeobox genes in leaf shape diversity. Curr Biol. 2022 Sep 12;32(17):3773-3784.e5. doi: https://doi.org/10.1016/j.cub.2022.08.020


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