Functional Plant Biology Functional Plant Biology Society
Plant function and evolutionary biology
EVOLUTIONARY REVIEW

The evolution of desiccation tolerance in angiosperm plants: a rare yet common phenomenon

Donald F. Gaff A C and Melvin Oliver B

A School of Biological Sciences, Monash University, Clayton, Vic. 3800, Australia.

B USDA-ARS, Plant Genetics Research Unit, 205 Curtis Hall – UMC, Columbia, MO 65211, USA.

C Corresponding author. Email: don.gaff@monash.edu

Functional Plant Biology 40(4) 315-328 http://dx.doi.org/10.1071/FP12321
Submitted: 28 October 2012  Accepted: 10 January 2013   Published: 22 February 2013

Abstract

In a minute proportion of angiosperm species, rehydrating foliage can revive from airdryness or even from equilibration with air of ~0% RH. Such desiccation tolerance is known from vegetative cells of some species of algae and of major groups close to the evolutionary path of the angiosperms. It is also found in the reproductive structures of some algae, moss spores and probably the aerial spores of other terrestrial cryptogamic taxa. The occurrence of desiccation tolerance in the seed plants is overwhelmingly in the aerial reproductive structures; the pollen and seed embryos. Spatially and temporally, pollen and embryos are close ontogenetic derivatives of the angiosperm microspores and megaspores respectively. This suggests that the desiccation tolerance of pollen and embryos derives from the desiccation tolerance of the spores of antecedent taxa and that the basic pollen/embryo mechanism of desiccation tolerance has eventually become expressed also in the vegetative tissue of certain angiosperm species whose drought avoidance is inadequate in micro-habitats that suffer extremely xeric episodes. The protective compounds and processes that contribute to desiccation tolerance in angiosperms are found in the modern groups related to the evolutionary path leading to the angiosperms and are also present in the algae and in the cyanobacteria. The mechanism of desiccation tolerance in the angiosperms thus appears to have its origins in algal ancestors and possibly in the endosymbiotic cyanobacteria-related progenitor of chloroplasts and the bacteria-related progenitor of mitochondria. The mechanism may involve the regulation and timing of the accumulation of protective compounds and of other contributing substances and processes.

Additional keywords: abscisic acid, Borya, Craterostigma, gene expression, modular evolution, proteome, protoplasmic drought tolerance, Sporobolus, Tortula, Xerophyta.


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