Adaptive gains through repeated gene loss: Parallel evolution of cyanogenesis polymorphisms in the genus Trifolium (Fabaceae)

Kenneth M. Olsen, Nicholas J. Kooyers, Linda L. Small

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11 Scopus citations


Variation in cyanogenesis (hydrogen cyanide release following tissue damage) was first noted in populations of white clover more than a century ago, and subsequent decades of research have established this system as a classic example of an adaptive chemical defence polymorphism. Here, we document polymorphisms for cyanogenic components in several relatives of white clover, and we determine the molecular basis of this trans-specific adaptive variation. One hundred and thirty-nine plants, representing 13 of the 14 species within Trifolium section Trifoliastrum, plus additional species across the genus, were assayed for cyanogenic components (cyanogenic glucosides and their hydrolysing enzyme, linamarase) and for the presence of underlying cyanogenesis genes (CYP79D15 and Li, respectively). One or both cyanogenic components were detected in seven species, all within section Trifoliastrum; polymorphisms for the presence/absence (PA) of components were detected in six species. In a pattern that parallels our previous findings for white clover, all observed biochemical polymorphisms correspond to gene PA polymorphisms at CYP79D15 and Li. Relationships of DNA sequence haplotypes at the cyanogenesis loci and flanking genomic regions suggest independent evolution of gene deletions within species. This study thus provides evidence for the parallel evolution of adaptive biochemical polymorphisms through recurrent gene deletions in multiple species.

Original languageEnglish
Article number20130347
JournalPhilosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences
Issue number1648
StatePublished - Aug 5 2014


  • Balanced polymorphism
  • Chemical defence
  • Clover (Trifolium L.)
  • Copy number variation
  • Cyanogenic glucosides
  • Molecular adaptation


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