Balanophora Genomes Display Massively Convergent Evolution with Other Extreme Holoparasites and Provide Novel Insights into Parasite-Host Interactions
Published:09 Oct.2023    Source:Nature Plants

Parasitic plants have evolved to be subtly or severely dependent on host plants to complete their life cycle. To provide new insights into the biology of parasitic plants in general, we assembled genomes for members of the sandalwood order Santalales, including a stem hemiparasite (Scurrula) and two highly modified root holoparasites (Balanophora) that possess chimaeric host-parasite tubers.

Comprehensive genome comparisons reveal that hemiparasitic Scurrula has experienced a relatively minor degree of gene loss compared with autotrophic plants, consistent with its moderate degree of parasitism. Nonetheless, patterns of gene loss appear to be substantially divergent across distantly related lineages of hemiparasites. In contrast, Balanophora has experienced substantial gene loss for the same sets of genes as an independently evolved holoparasite lineage, the endoparasitic Sapria (Malpighiales), and the two holoparasite lineages experienced convergent contraction of large gene families through loss of paralogues. This unprecedented convergence supports the idea that despite their extreme and strikingly divergent life histories and morphology, the evolution of these and other holoparasitic lineages can be shaped by highly predictable modes of genome reduction.
We observe substantial evidence of relaxed selection in retained genes for both hemi- and holoparasitic species. Transcriptome data also document unusual and novel interactions between Balanophora and host plants at the host-parasite tuber interface tissues, with evidence of mRNA exchange, substantial and active hormone exchange and immune responses in parasite and host.