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Open Access Highly Accessed Research article

Frequent loss of lineages and deficient duplications accounted for low copy number of disease resistance genes in Cucurbitaceae

Xiao Lin, Yu Zhang, Hanhui Kuang and Jiongjiong Chen*

Author Affiliations

Key Laboratory of Horticulture Biology, Ministry of Education, and Department of Vegetable Crops, College of Horticulture and Forestry, Huazhong Agricultural University, Wuhan 430070, P.R. China

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BMC Genomics 2013, 14:335  doi:10.1186/1471-2164-14-335

Published: 17 May 2013



The sequenced genomes of cucumber, melon and watermelon have relatively few R-genes, with 70, 75 and 55 copies only, respectively. The mechanism for low copy number of R-genes in Cucurbitaceae genomes remains unknown.


Manual annotation of R-genes in the sequenced genomes of Cucurbitaceae species showed that approximately half of them are pseudogenes. Comparative analysis of R-genes showed frequent loss of R-gene loci in different Cucurbitaceae species. Phylogenetic analysis, data mining and PCR cloning using degenerate primers indicated that Cucurbitaceae has limited number of R-gene lineages (subfamilies). Comparison between R-genes from Cucurbitaceae and those from poplar and soybean suggested frequent loss of R-gene lineages in Cucurbitaceae. Furthermore, the average number of R-genes per lineage in Cucurbitaceae species is approximately 1/3 that in soybean or poplar. Therefore, both loss of lineages and deficient duplications in extant lineages accounted for the low copy number of R-genes in Cucurbitaceae. No extensive chimeras of R-genes were found in any of the sequenced Cucurbitaceae genomes. Nevertheless, one lineage of R-genes from Trichosanthes kirilowii, a wild Cucurbitaceae species, exhibits chimeric structures caused by gene conversions, and may contain a large number of distinct R-genes in natural populations.


Cucurbitaceae species have limited number of R-gene lineages and each genome harbors relatively few R-genes. The scarcity of R-genes in Cucurbitaceae species was due to frequent loss of R-gene lineages and infrequent duplications in extant lineages. The evolutionary mechanisms for large variation of copy number of R-genes in different plant species were discussed.

R-genes; Cucurbitaceae; Copy number; Evolution; Sequence exchange