Open Access Highly Accessed Research article

Partial functional conservation of IRX10 homologs in physcomitrella patens and Arabidopsis thaliana indicates an evolutionary step contributing to vascular formation in land plants

Emma Hörnblad1, Mikael Ulfstedt2, Hans Ronne2 and Alan Marchant13*

Author affiliations

1 UPSC, Department of Forest Genetics and Plant Physiology, Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences, Umeå, SE-90183, Sweden

2 Department of Microbiology, Uppsala Biocenter, Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences, Box 7025, Uppsala, SE-750 07, Sweden

3 Centre for Biological Sciences, Life Sciences Building 85, University of Southampton, Southampton, SO17 1BJ, UK

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Citation and License

BMC Plant Biology 2013, 13:3  doi:10.1186/1471-2229-13-3

Published: 3 January 2013



Plant cell walls are complex multicomponent structures that have evolved to fulfil an essential function in providing strength and protection to cells. Hemicelluloses constitute a key component of the cell wall and recently a number of the genes thought to encode the enzymes required for its synthesis have been identified in Arabidopsis. The acquisition of hemicellulose synthesis capability is hypothesised to have been an important step in the evolution of higher plants.


Analysis of the Physcomitrella patens genome has revealed the presence of homologs for all of the Arabidopsis glycosyltransferases including IRX9, IRX10 and IRX14 required for the synthesis of the glucuronoxylan backbone. The Physcomitrella IRX10 homolog is expressed in a variety of moss tissues which were newly formed or undergoing expansion. There is a high degree of sequence conservation between the Physcomitrella IRX10 and Arabidopsis IRX10 and IRX10-L. Despite this sequence similarity, the Physcomitrella IRX10 gene is only able to partially rescue the Arabidopsis irx10 irx10-L double mutant indicating that there has been a neo- or sub-functionalisation during the evolution of higher plants. Analysis of the monosaccharide composition of stems from the partially rescued Arabidopsis plants does not show any significant change in xylose content compared to the irx10 irx10-L double mutant. Likewise, knockout mutants of the Physcomitrella IRX10 gene do not result in any visible phenotype and there is no significant change in monosaccharide composition of the cell walls.


The fact that the Physcomitrella IRX10 (PpGT47A) protein can partially complement an Arabidopsis irx10 irx10-L double mutant suggests that it shares some function with the Arabidopsis proteins, but the lack of a phenotype in knockout lines shows that the function is not required for growth or development under normal conditions in Physcomitrella. In contrast, the Arabidopsis irx10 and irx10 irx10-L mutants have strong phenotypes indicating an important function in growth and development. We conclude that the evolution of vascular plants has been associated with a significant change or adaptation in the function of the IRX10 gene family.

Plant cell wall; Hemicellulose; Arabidopsis thaliana; Physcomitrella patens; Glycosyltransferases; Xylan