Phylogenomics of the Flowering Plant Clade Malpighiales

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Phylogenomics of the Flowering Plant Clade Malpighiales

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Title: Phylogenomics of the Flowering Plant Clade Malpighiales
Author: Xi, Zhenxiang
Citation: Xi, Zhenxiang. 2013. Phylogenomics of the Flowering Plant Clade Malpighiales. Doctoral dissertation, Harvard University.
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Abstract: The angiosperm order Malpighiales includes \(\sim 16,000\) species and constitutes up to 40% of the understory tree diversity in tropical rain forests. Despite remarkable progress in angiosperm phylogenetics during the last 20 years, relationships within Malpighiales have remained poorly resolved, possibly due to its rapid rise during the mid-Cretaceous. Using phylogenomic approaches, including analyses of 82 plastid genes from 58 species, we identified 12 new clades in Malpighiales and substantially increased resolution along the backbone (Chapter 1). This greatly improved phylogeny revealed a dynamic history of shifts in net species’ diversification rates across Malpighiales, with bursts of diversification noted in the Barbados cherries (Malpighiaceae), cocas (Erythroxylaceae), and passion flowers (Passifloraceae). We also found that commonly used a priori approaches for partitioning data in similar large-scale analyses, by gene or by codon position, performed poorly relative to the use of partitions identified a posteriori using a Bayesian mixture model. Another aspect of my thesis focused on investigating horizontal gene transfer (HGT) in Malpighiales. Recent studies have suggested that plant genomes have undergone potentially rampant HGT. Parasitic plants have provided the strongest evidence of HGT, which appears to be facilitated by the intimate physical association between the parasites and their hosts. Using phylogenomic approaches, we analyzed the nuclear transcriptome (Chapter 2) and mitochondrial genome (Chapter 3) of the holoparasite Rafflesiaceae, which represents an enigmatic subclade of Malpighiales. Our analyses show that several dozen actively transcribed nuclear genes, and as many as 34–47% of its mitochondrial gene sequences, show evidence of HGT depending on the species. Some of these HGTs appear to have maintained synteny with their donor and recipient lineages suggesting that vertically inherited genes have likely been displaced via homologous recombination, as is common in bacteria. Finally, our results establish for the first time that although the magnitude of HGT involving nuclear genes is appreciable in these parasitic plants, HGT involving mitochondrial genes is substantially higher. Moreover, the elevated rate of unidirectional host-to-parasite gene transfer raises the possibility that HGTs may provide a fitness benefit to Rafflesiaceae for maintaining these genes.
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