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Open Access Highly Accessed Research article

Evolutionary history and stress regulation of the lectin superfamily in higher plants

Shu-Ye Jiang, Zhigang Ma and Srinivasan Ramachandran*

Author Affiliations

Temasek Life Sciences Laboratory, 1 Research Link, the National University of Singapore, Singapore 117604

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BMC Evolutionary Biology 2010, 10:79  doi:10.1186/1471-2148-10-79

Published: 18 March 2010

Abstract

Background

Lectins are a class of carbohydrate-binding proteins. They play roles in various biological processes. However, little is known about their evolutionary history and their functions in plant stress regulation. The availability of full genome sequences from various plant species makes it possible to perform a whole-genome exploration for further understanding their biological functions.

Results

Higher plant genomes encode large numbers of lectin proteins. Based on their domain structures and phylogenetic analyses, a new classification system has been proposed. In this system, 12 different families have been classified and four of them consist of recently identified plant lectin members. Further analyses show that some of lectin families exhibit species-specific expansion and rapid birth-and-death evolution. Tandem and segmental duplications have been regarded as the major mechanisms to drive lectin expansion although retrogenes also significantly contributed to the birth of new lectin genes in soybean and rice. Evidence shows that lectin genes have been involved in biotic/abiotic stress regulations and tandem/segmental duplications may be regarded as drivers for plants to adapt various environmental stresses through duplication followed by expression divergence. Each member of this gene superfamily may play specialized roles in a specific stress condition and function as a regulator of various environmental factors such as cold, drought and high salinity as well as biotic stresses.

Conclusions

Our studies provide a new outline of the plant lectin gene superfamily and advance the understanding of plant lectin genes in lineage-specific expansion and their functions in biotic/abiotic stress-related developmental processes.