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Punctuated plastome reduction and host–parasite horizontal gene transfer in the holoparasitic plant genus Aphyllon


Foundational studies of chloroplast genome (plastome) evolution in parasitic plants have focused on broad trends across large clades, particularly among the Orobanchaceae, a species-rich and ecologically diverse family of root parasites. However, the extent to which such patterns and processes of plastome evolution, such as stepwise gene loss following the complete loss of photosynthesis (shift to holoparasitism), are detectable at shallow evolutionary time scale is largely unknown. We used genome skimming to assemble eight chloroplast genomes representing complete taxonomic sampling of Aphyllon sect. Aphyllon, a small clade within the Orobanchaceae that evolved approximately 6 Ma, long after the origin of holoparasitism. We show substantial plastome reduction occurred in the stem lineage, but subsequent change in plastome size, gene content, and structure has been relatively minimal, albeit detectable. This lends additional fine-grained support to existing models of stepwise plastome reduction in holoparasitic plants. Additionally, we report phylogenetic evidence based on an rbcL gene tree and assembled 60+ kb fragments of the Aphyllon epigalium mitochondrial genome indicating host-to-parasite horizontal gene transfers (hpHGT) of several genes originating from the plastome of an ancient Galium host into the mitochondrial genome of a recent common ancestor of A. epigalium Ecologically, this evidence of hpHGT suggests that the host-parasite associations between Galium and A. epigalium have been stable at least since its subspecies diverged hundreds of thousands of years ago.

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