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Open Access Highly Accessed Open Badges Research article

Molecular evolution and functional characterisation of an ancient phenylalanine ammonia-lyase gene (NnPAL1) from Nelumbo nucifera: novel insight into the evolution of the PAL family in angiosperms

Zhihua Wu1, Songtao Gui1, Shuzhen Wang2 and Yi Ding1*

Author Affiliations

1 State Key Laboratory of Hybrid Rice, Department of Genetics, College of Life Sciences, Wuhan University, Wuhan, Hubei Province 430072, People’s Republic of China

2 College of Life Sciences, Huanggang Normal University, Huanggang, Hubei Province 438000, People’s Republic of China

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BMC Evolutionary Biology 2014, 14:100  doi:10.1186/1471-2148-14-100

Published: 9 May 2014



Phenylalanine ammonia-lyase (PAL; E.C. is a key enzyme of the phenylpropanoid pathway in plant development, and it catalyses the deamination of phenylalanine to trans-cinnamic acid, leading to the production of secondary metabolites. This enzyme has been identified in many organisms, ranging from prokaryotes to higher plants. Because Nelumbo nucifera is a basal dicot rich in many secondary metabolites, it is a suitable candidate for research on the phenylpropanoid pathway.


Three PAL members, NnPAL1, NnPAL2 and NnPAL3, have been identified in N. nucifera using genome-wide analysis. NnPAL1 contains two introns; however, both NnPAL2 and NnPAL3 have only one intron. Molecular and evolutionary analysis of NnPAL1 confirms that it is an ancient PAL member of the angiosperms and may have a different origin. However, PAL clusters, except NnPAL1, are monophyletic after the split between dicots and monocots. These observations suggest that duplication events remain an important occurrence in the evolution of the PAL gene family. Molecular assays demonstrate that the mRNA of the NnPAL1 gene is 2343 bp in size and encodes a 717 amino acid polypeptide. The optimal pH and temperature of the recombinant NnPAL1 protein are 9.0 and 55°C, respectively. The NnPAL1 protein retains both PAL and weak TAL catalytic activities with Km values of 1.07 mM for L-phenylalanine and 3.43 mM for L-tyrosine, respectively. Cis-elements response to environmental stress are identified and confirmed using real-time PCR for treatments with abscisic acid (ABA), indoleacetic acid (IAA), ultraviolet light, Neurospora crassa (fungi) and drought.


We conclude that the angiosperm PAL genes are not derived from a single gene in an ancestral angiosperm genome; therefore, there may be another ancestral duplication and vertical inheritance from the gymnosperms. The different evolutionary histories for PAL genes in angiosperms suggest different mechanisms of functional regulation. The expression patterns of NnPAL1 in response to stress may be necessary for the survival of N. nucifera since the Cretaceous Period. The discovery and characterisation of the ancient NnPAL1 help to elucidate PAL evolution in angiosperms.

Nelumbo nucifera; Phenylalanine ammonia-lyase gene; Evolution; Expression; Bioinformatics analysis