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  1. Abstract

    Floral organs are produced by floral meristems (FMs), which harbor stem cells in their centers. Since each flower only has a finite number of organs, the stem cell activity of an FM will always terminate at a specific time point, a process termed floral meristem termination (FMT). Variation in the timing of FMT can give rise to floral morphological diversity, but how this process is fine-tuned at a developmental and evolutionary level is poorly understood. Flowers from the genus Aquilegia share identical floral organ arrangement except for stamen whorl number (SWN), making Aquilegia a well-suited system for investigation of this process: differences in SWN between species represent differences in the timing of FMT. By crossing A. canadensis and A. brevistyla, quantitative trait locus (QTL) mapping has revealed a complex genetic architecture with seven QTL. We explored potential candidate genes under each QTL and characterized novel expression patterns of select loci of interest using in situ hybridization. To our knowledge, this is the first attempt to dissect the genetic basis of how natural variation in the timing of FMT is regulated, and our results provide insight into how floral morphological diversity can be generated at the meristematic level.

  2. The evolution of novel features, such as eyes or wings, that allow organisms to exploit their environment in new ways can lead to increased diversification rates. Therefore, understanding the genetic and developmental mechanisms involved in the origin of these key innovations has long been of interest to evolutionary biologists. In flowering plants, floral nectar spurs are a prime example of a key innovation, with the independent evolution of spurs associated with increased diversification rates in multiple angiosperm lineages due to their ability to promote reproductive isolation via pollinator specialization. As none of the traditional plant model taxa have nectar spurs, little is known about the genetic and developmental basis of this trait. Nectar spurs are a defining feature of the columbine genusAquilegia(Ranunculaceae), a lineage that has experienced a relatively recent and rapid radiation. We use a combination of genetic mapping, gene expression analyses, and functional assays to identify a gene crucial for nectar spur development,POPOVICH(POP), which encodes a C2H2 zinc-finger transcription factor.POPplays a central role in regulating cell proliferation in theAquilegiapetal during the early phase (phase I) of spur development and also appears to be necessary for the subsequent development of nectaries. The identification ofPOPopens up numerous avenues for continuedmore »scientific exploration, including further elucidating of the genetic pathway of which it is a part, determining its role in the initial evolution of theAquilegianectar spur, and examining its potential role in the subsequent evolution of diverse spur morphologies across the genus.

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