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Open Access Research article

Duplications and functional divergence of ADP-glucose pyrophosphorylase genes in plants

Nikolaos Georgelis1, Edward L Braun2 and L Curtis Hannah1*

Author Affiliations

1 Program in Plant Molecular and Cellular Biology and Horticultural Sciences, University of Florida, Gainesville, Florida 32610-0245, USA

2 Department of Zoology, University of Florida, Gainesville, Florida 32611-8525, USA

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BMC Evolutionary Biology 2008, 8:232  doi:10.1186/1471-2148-8-232

Published: 12 August 2008



ADP-glucose pyrophosphorylase (AGPase), which catalyses a rate limiting step in starch synthesis, is a heterotetramer comprised of two identical large and two identical small subunits in plants. Although the large and small subunits are equally sensitive to activity-altering amino acid changes when expressed in a bacterial system, the overall rate of non-synonymous evolution is ~2.7-fold greater for the large subunit than for the small subunit. Herein, we examine the basis for their different rates of evolution, the number of duplications in both large and small subunit genes and document changes in the patterns of AGPase evolution over time.


We found that the first duplication in the AGPase large subunit family occurred early in the history of land plants, while the earliest small subunit duplication occurred after the divergence of monocots and eudicots. The large subunit also had a larger number of gene duplications than did the small subunit. The ancient duplications in the large subunit family raise concern about the saturation of synonymous substitutions, but estimates of the absolute rate of AGPase evolution were highly correlated with estimates of ω (the non-synonymous to synonymous rate ratio). Both subunits showed evidence for positive selection and relaxation of purifying selection after duplication, but these phenomena could not explain the different evolutionary rates of the two subunits. Instead, evolutionary constraints appear to be permanently relaxed for the large subunit relative to the small subunit. Both subunits exhibit branch-specific patterns of rate variation among sites.


These analyses indicate that the higher evolutionary rate of the plant AGPase large subunit reflects permanent relaxation of constraints relative to the small subunit and they show that the large subunit genes have undergone more gene duplications than small subunit genes. Candidate sites potentially responsible for functional divergence within each of the AGPase subunits were investigated by examining branch-specific patterns of rate variation. We discuss the phenotypes of mutants that alter some candidate sites and strategies for examining candidate sites of presently unknown function.