Open Access Research article

Conserved CO-FT regulons contribute to the photoperiod flowering control in soybean

Chengming Fan12, Ruibo Hu3, Xiaomei Zhang1, Xu Wang1, Wenjing Zhang1, Qingzhe Zhang1, Jinhua Ma1 and Yong-Fu Fu1*

Author Affiliations

1 MOA Key Lab of Soybean Biology (Beijing), National Key Facility of Crop Gene Resource and Genetic Improvement, Institute of Crop Sciences, Chinese Academy of Agricultural Sciences, 12 Zhongguancun Nandajie, Haidian District, Beijing 100081, China

2 Institute of Genetics and Developmental Biology, Chinese Academy of Sciences, Beijing, China

3 CAS Key Lab of Biofuels, Shandong Provincial Key Lab of Energy Genetics, Qingdao Institute of BioEnergy and BioProcess Technology, Chinese Academy of Sciences, Qingdao, Shandong 266101, China

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BMC Plant Biology 2014, 14:9  doi:10.1186/1471-2229-14-9

Published: 7 January 2014



CO and FT orthologs, belonging to the BBX and PEBP family, respectively, have important and conserved roles in the photoperiod regulation of flowering time in plants. Soybean genome experienced at least three rounds of whole genome duplications (WGDs), which resulted in multiple copies of about 75% of genes. Subsequent subfunctionalization is the main fate for paralogous gene pairs during the evolutionary process.


The phylogenic relationships revealed that CO orthologs were widespread in the plant kingdom while FT orthologs were present only in angiosperms. Twenty-eight CO homologous genes and twenty-four FT homologous genes were gained in the soybean genome. Based on the collinear relationship, the soybean ancestral CO ortholog experienced three WGD events, but only two paralogous gene pairs (GmCOL1/2 and GmCOL5/13) survived in the modern soybean. The paralogous gene pairs, GmCOL1/2 or GmCOL5/13, showed similar expression patterns in pair but different between pairs, indicating that they functionally diverged. GmFTL1 to 7 were derived from the same ancestor prior to the whole genome triplication (WGT) event, and after the Legume WGD event the ancestor diverged into two branches, GmFTL3/5/7 and GmFTL1/2/4/6. GmFTL7 were truncated in the N-terminus compared to other FT-lineage genes, but ubiquitously expressed. Expressions of GmFTL1 to 6 were higher in leaves at the flowering stage than that at the seedling stage. GmFTL3 was expressed at the highest level in all tissues except roots at the seedling stage, and its circadian pattern was different from the other five ones. The transcript of GmFTL6 was highly accumulated in seedling roots. The circadian rhythms of GmCOL5/13 and GmFT1/2/4/5/6 were synchronized in a day, demonstrating the complicate relationship of CO-FT regulons in soybean leaves. Over-expression of GmCOL2 did not rescue the flowering phenotype of the Arabidopsis co mutant. However, ectopic expression of GmCOL5 did rescue the co mutant phenotype. All GmFTL1 to 6 showed flower-promoting activities in Arabidopsis.


After three recent rounds of whole genome duplications in the soybean, the paralogous genes of CO-FT regulons showed subfunctionalization through expression divergence. Then, only GmCOL5/13 kept flowering-promoting activities, while GmFTL1 to 6 contributed to flowering control. Additionally, GmCOL5/13 and GmFT1/2/3/4/5/6 showed similar circadian expression profiles. Therefore, our results suggested that GmCOL5/13 and GmFT1/2/3/4/5/6 formed the complicate CO-FT regulons in the photoperiod regulation of flowering time in soybean.

CONSTANS; FLOWERING LOCUS T; Paralog; Ortholog; Functional divergence; Soybean