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  1. Free, publicly-accessible full text available February 1, 2023
  2. For more than 225 million y, all seed plants were woody trees, shrubs, or vines. Shortly after the origin of angiosperms ∼140 million y ago (MYA), the Nymphaeales (water lilies) became one of the first lineages to deviate from their ancestral, woody habit by losing the vascular cambium, the meristematic population of cells that produces secondary xylem (wood) and phloem. Many of the genes and gene families that regulate differentiation of secondary tissues also regulate the differentiation of primary xylem and phloem, which are produced by apical meristems and retained in nearly all seed plants. Here, we sequenced and assembled a draft genome of the water lilyNymphaea thermarum, an emerging system for the study of early flowering plant evolution, and compared it to genomes from other cambium-bearing and cambium-less lineages (e.g., monocots andNelumbo). This revealed lineage-specific patterns of gene loss and divergence.Nymphaeais characterized by a significant contraction of the HD-ZIP III transcription factors, specifically loss ofREVOLUTA, which influences cambial activity in other angiosperms. We also found theNymphaeaand monocot copies of cambium-associated CLE signaling peptides display unique substitutions at otherwise highly conserved amino acids.Nelumbodisplays no obvious divergence in cambium-associated genes. The divergent genomic signatures of convergent loss of vascular cambium revealsmore »that even pleiotropic genes can exhibit unique divergence patterns in association with independent events of trait loss. Our results shed light on the evolution of herbaceousness—one of the key biological innovations associated with the earliest phases of angiosperm evolution.

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