The intriguing evolutionary dynamics of plant mitochondrial DNA
Université Montpellier 2, CNRS UMR 5554-Institut des Sciences de l'Evolution, Place E Bataillon-CC64, 34095 Montpellier, France
BMC Biology 2011, 9:61 doi:10.1186/1741-7007-9-61Published: 27 September 2011
The mitochondrial genome of plants is-in every respect and for yet unclear reasons-very different from the well-studied one of animals. Thanks to next-generation sequencing technologies, Davila et al. precisely characterized the role played by recombination and DNA repair in controlling mitochondrial variations in Arabidopsis thaliana, thus opening new perspectives on the long-term evolution of this intriguing genome.
The mitochondrial genome of plants is a challenge to molecular evolutionary biologists. Its content is highly dynamic: plant mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) is large and variable in size (200 to 2,500 kb), contains many introns and repeated elements (typically 90% of the total sequence), and experiences frequent gene gain/loss/transfer/duplication, and genome rearrangements . Its nucleotide substitution rate, paradoxically, is remarkably low-even lower than for nuclear DNA. These features are in sharp contrast with the highly studied mtDNA of animals, which is small-sized, structurally conserved, devoid of selfish elements, and has a very fast nucleotide substitution rate . Why these two genomes behave so differently is one of the most head-scratching questions of current comparative genomics. The study by Davila et al.  contributes a potentially decisive argument by connecting the plant mtDNA mutation rate to yet another intriguing feature of this organellar genome-recombination.