Li XG, Wu HX, Southerton SG
Comparative genomics of xylem evolution in vascular plants
BMC Evolutionary Biology: 2010 10:190

Abstract
Background
Wood is a valuable natural resource and a major carbon sink. Wood formation is an important developmental process in vascular plants which played a crucial role in plant evolution. Although genes involved in xylem formation have been investigated, the molecular mechanisms of xylem evolution are not well understood. We use comparative genomics to examine evolution of the xylem transcriptome to gain insights into xylem evolution.

Results
The xylem transcriptome is highly conserved in conifers, but considerably divergent in angiosperms. The functional domains of genes in the xylem transcriptome are moderately to highly conserved in vascular plants, suggesting the existence of a common ancestral xylem transcriptome. Compared to the total transcriptome derived from a range of tissues, the xylem transcriptome is relatively conserved in vascular plants. Of the xylem transcriptome, cell wall genes, ancestral xylem genes, known proteins and transcription factors are relatively more conserved in vascular plants. A total of 527 putative xylem orthologs were identified, which are unevenly distributed across the Arabidopsis chromosomes with eight hot spots observed. Phylogenetic analysis revealed that evolution of the xylem transcriptome has paralleled plant evolution. We also identified 274 conifer-specific xylem unigenes, all of which are of unknown function. These xylem orthologs and conifer-specific unigenes are likely to have played a crucial role in xylem evolution.

Conclusions
Conifers have highly conserved xylem transcriptomes, while angiosperm xylem transcriptomes are relatively diversified. Vascular plants share a common ancestral xylem transcriptome. The xylem transcriptomes of vascular plants are more conserved than the total transcriptomes. Evolution of the xylem transcriptome has largely followed the trend of plant evolution.

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