Proteomics and phylogenetics of the Gnetales

University dissertation from Stockholm : Department of Ecology, Environment and Plant Sciences, Stockholm University

Abstract: A central point of Darwin’s theory of evolution is that accumulation of many small changes during the evolutionary process can result in significant change over time. In light of his theory, plant scientists seek for and compare different plant traits among species e.g., from morphology, DNA or proteins in order to discover the underlying evolutionary patterns and processes. The Gnetales, an intriguing family that comprises Ephedra, Gnetum and Welwitschia, have puzzled scientists for over a century. Their features are evolutionarily difficult to understand in comparison with other seed plants and this has hampered analyses of evolution and phylogeny regardless of whether morphological or molecular data has been utilized. In this thesis, I first attempt (Paper I) to seek for a new evolutionary indicator; a protein profile from pollination drops of Ephedra is compiled, and the results are compared with those from conifers and other seed plants. The aim of this proteomic study was also to investigate whether proteomic profiles vary among Ephedra species and are affected by different selection factors, e.g., pollination mode, ovule protection etc. The results indicate, however, that proteins are present only in very small amounts in pollination drops of Ephedra, and mainly as waste products from degrading cells. This is surprising since proteins are considered important for defense of the naked ovules of gymnosperms, e.g., against pathogens. Pollination drops of Ephedra have a very high sugar concentration and it is possible that carbohydrates are responsible for ovule defense in Ephedra. The second chapter of my thesis (Paper II) is devoted to Gnetum; a phylogenetic study based on genetic markers derived from both nuclear ribosomal regions and chloroplast regions is conducted. Previous studies have been hampered by difficulties with outgroup comparison and homology assessments of informative gene regions. A few attempts have been made to estimate the deepest splits in the genus, all with a limited ingroup sampling. We address the phylogeny of Gnetum and make a first assessment of the monophyly of species, using a denser sampling of taxa and a combination of faster and more slowly evolving molecular markers. The results are discussed in comparison with previous classification and morphology, and will provide a basis for further studies of taxonomy, ecology, and biogeography in Gnetum.