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Hoffmann, R. A wiki for the life sciences where authorship matters. Nature Genetics (2008)

Frequent gain and loss of pyrrolizidine alkaloids in the evolution of Senecio section Jacobaea (Asteraceae).

Pyrrolizidine alkaloids (PAs) of the macrocyclic senecionine type are secondary metabolites characteristic for most species of the genus Senecio (Asteraceae). These PAs are deterrent and toxic to most vertebrates and insects and provide plants with a chemical defense against herbivores. We studied the PA composition of 24 out of 26 species of Senecio section Jacobaea using GC-MS. The PA profiles of eight of these species have not been studied before and additional PAs were identified for most other species that were included in previous studies. With one exception (senecivernine) all 26 PAs identified in sect. Jacobaea can be regarded as derivatives of the biosynthetic backbone structure senecionine. Based on the PA profiles of the species of sect. Jacobaea and the results of previous tracer studies, we constructed two hypothetical biosynthetic scenarios of senecionine diversification. Both scenarios contain two major reactions: the conversion of the necine base moiety retronecine into the otonecine moiety and site-specific epoxidations within the necic acid moiety. Further reactions are site-specific hydroxylations, sometimes followed by O-acetylations, site-specific dehydrogenations, E, Z-isomerizations, and epoxide hydrolysis and chlorolysis. The GC-MS data and both biosynthetic scenarios were subsequently used to study the evolution of PA formation in sect. Jacobaea by reconstructing the evolutionary history of qualitative PA variation in this section. This was achieved by optimizing additive presence/absence data of PAs and types of enzymatic conversions on a maximum parsimony cladogram of section Jacobaea inferred from DNA sequence and morphological data. Besides showing large intra- and interspecific variation, PA distribution appears to be largely incidental within the whole clade. These results together with the finding that all but one of the PAs identified in sect. Jacobaea are also present in species of other sections of Senecio indicate that differences in PA profiles in Senecio can not be explained by the gain and loss of PA specific genes, but rather by a transient switch-off and switch-on of the expression of genes encoding PA pathway-specific enzymes.[1]


  1. Frequent gain and loss of pyrrolizidine alkaloids in the evolution of Senecio section Jacobaea (Asteraceae). Pelser, P.B., de Vos, H., Theuring, C., Beuerle, T., Vrieling, K., Hartmann, T. Phytochemistry (2005) [Pubmed]
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