Dual-species origin of an adaptive chemical defense polymorphism

Kenneth M. Olsen, David M. Goad, Sara J. Wright, Maya L. Dutta, Samantha R. Myers, Linda L. Small, Lin Feng Li

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

7 Scopus citations


Allopolyploid speciation and chemical defense diversification are two of the most characteristic features of plant evolution; although the former has likely shaped the latter, this has rarely been documented. Here we document allopolyploidy-mediated chemical defense evolution in the origin of cyanogenesis (HCN release upon tissue damage) in white clover (Trifolium repens). We combined linkage mapping of the loci that control cyanogenesis (Ac, controlling production of cyanogenic glucosides; and Li, controlling production of their hydrolyzing enzyme linamarase) with genome sequence comparisons between white clover, a recently evolved allotetraploid, and its diploid progenitors (Trifolium pallescens, Trifolium occidentale). The Ac locus (a three-gene cluster comprising the cyanogenic glucoside pathway) is derived from T. occidentale; it maps to linkage group 2O (occidentale subgenome) and is orthologous to a highly similar cluster in the T. occidentale reference genome. By contrast, Li maps to linkage group 4P (pallescens subgenome), indicating an origin in the other progenitor species. These results indicate that cyanogenesis evolved in white clover as a product of the interspecific hybridization that created the species. This allopolyploidization-derived chemical defense, together with subsequent selection on intraspecific cyanogenesis variation, appears to have contributed to white clover’s ecological success as a globally distributed weed species.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1477-1487
Number of pages11
JournalNew Phytologist
Issue number3
StatePublished - Nov 2021


  • Trifolium repens (Fabaceae)
  • allopolyploid speciation
  • chemical defense
  • cyanogenic glucoside
  • intraspecific polymorphism
  • linamarase


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