Researchers identify gene in petunias responsible for controlling how much UV light is absorbed

December 15, 2015 by Bob Yirka, report

A Hyles lineata moth feeds from a P. axillaris flower. Credit: Alexandre Dell’Olivo
(—An international team of researchers has identified the gene in petunia plants that is responsible for controlling how much UV light the flowers of the plant absorb which in turn has an impact on the types of pollinators that are attracted. In their paper published in the journal Nature Genetics, the team describes their genetic study of the plant and why they believe that what they found might help explain how it is that petunias adapt to attract different pollinators.

Petunias are flowering plants that rely on other creatures for pollination—over time, individual species have developed that rely on particular , but until now, the mechanism by which this has occurred had not been well understood. In this new effort, the researchers looked at the genetic makeup of three different species of petunias that attract bees (Petunia inflata), hawkmoths (Petunia axillaris) or hummingbirds (Petunia exserta).

In studying the three South American species, they noted that the species that attracted hawkmoths absorbed the highest amount of UV light. This led them to narrowing down the genes of the three species until they came upon a single one—MYB-FL—testing showed that mutations to this gene caused the flower of the plant to absorb more or less UV light by causing fluctuations in the production of flavonol. The researchers believe the amount of UV light absorbed has an attraction quality for pollinators. From this they deduced that it was likely natural mutations occurred over time to the MYB-FL gene causing a different pollinator to become more attracted to a certain species—leading to the development of a .

Flower shown in visible light. Mutation of the MYB-FL gene by a transposon causes the reciprocal alteration of flavonol and anthocyanin pigments in the petal causing the contrasting sector. Credit: Hester Sheehan

More specifically, they found that it appeared that there was a shift in the long ago past, from bee attraction in one species to hawkmoth attraction, which led to another species developing and which was accompanied by a MYB-FL mutation, which caused an increase in the level of UV absorbing compounds in those flowers. Likewise, they noted there appeared to have been a different mutation that came about at a later time that caused a shift from attracting hawkmoths to attracting hummingbirds, once again leading to the development of a new .

Explore further: Flowers that point to the sky may attract more moth pollinators

More information: Hester Sheehan et al. MYB-FL controls gain and loss of floral UV absorbance, a key trait affecting pollinator preference and reproductive isolation, Nature Genetics (2015). DOI: 10.1038/ng.3462

Adaptations to new pollinators involve multiple floral traits, each requiring coordinated changes in multiple genes. Despite this genetic complexity, shifts in pollination syndromes have happened frequently during angiosperm evolution. Here we study the genetic basis of floral UV absorbance, a key trait for attracting nocturnal pollinators. In Petunia, mutations in a single gene, MYB-FL, explain two transitions in UV absorbance. A gain of UV absorbance in the transition from bee to moth pollination was determined by a cis-regulatory mutation, whereas a frameshift mutation caused subsequent loss of UV absorbance during the transition from moth to hummingbird pollination. The functional differences in MYB-FL provide insight into the process of speciation and clarify phylogenetic relationships between nascent species.

Related Stories

Researchers discover how petunias know when to smell good

June 29, 2015

Good timing is a matter of skill. You would certainly dress up for an afternoon business meeting, but not an evening session of binge-watching Netflix. If you were just a few hours off in your wardrobe timing, your spouse ...

3-D printing blossoms into powerful new tool for ecologists

April 14, 2015

3D printing has been used to make everything from cars to medical implants. Now, ecologists are using the technology to make artificial flowers, which they say could revolutionise our understanding of plant-pollinator interactions. ...

Threat posed by 'pollen thief' bees uncovered

October 9, 2015

A new University of Stirling study has uncovered the secrets of 'pollen thief' bees - which take pollen from flowers but fail to act as effective pollinators - and the threat they pose to certain plant species.

Recommended for you

Semimetals are high conductors

March 18, 2019

Researchers in China and at UC Davis have measured high conductivity in very thin layers of niobium arsenide, a type of material called a Weyl semimetal. The material has about three times the conductivity of copper at room ...

1 comment

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

not rated yet Dec 16, 2015
biology is really mystery and scientists and researchers are main factors of our society development. although this research post here is not so big as any other one, it expresses the potential of our scientists. the absorption of UV is very important for petunias. thanks for sharing this.

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.