Functional gene losses occur with minimal size reduction in the plastid genome of the parasitic liverwort Aneura mirabilis

Norman J. Wickett*, Yan Zhang, S. Kellon Hansen, Jessie M. Roper, Jennifer V. Kuehl, Sheila A. Plock, Paul G. Wolf, Claude W. Depamphilis, Jeffrey L. Boore, Bernard Goffinet

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

94 Scopus citations


Aneura mirabilis is a parasitic liverwort that exploits an existing mycorrhizal association between a basidiomycete and a host tree. This unusual liverwort is the only known parasitic seedless land plant with a completely nonphotosynthetic life history. The complete plastid genome of A. mirabilis was sequenced to examine the effect of its nonphotosynthetic life history on plastid genome content. Using a partial genomic fosmid library approach, the genome was sequenced and shown to be 108,007 bp with a structure typical of green plant plastids. Comparisons were made with the plastid genome of Marchantia polymorpha, the only other liverwort plastid sequence available. All ndh genes are either absent or pseudogenes. Five of 15 psb genes are pseudogenes, as are 2 of 6 psa genes and 2 of 6 pet genes. Pseudogenes of cysA, cysT, ccsA, and ycf3 were also detected. The remaining complement of genes present in M. polymorpha is present in the plastid of A. mirabilis with intact open reading frames. All pseudogenes and gene losses co-occur with losses detected in the plastid of the parasitic angiosperm Epifagus virginiana, though the latter has functional gene losses not found in A. mirabilis. The plastid genome sequence of A. mirabilis represents only the second liverwort, and first mycoheterotroph, to have its plastid genome sequenced. We observed a pattern of genome evolution congruent with functional gene losses in parasitic angiosperms but suggest that its plastid genome represents a genome in the early stages of decay following the relaxation of selection pressures.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)393-401
Number of pages9
JournalMolecular biology and evolution
Issue number2
StatePublished - Feb 2008


  • Aneura mirabilis
  • Bryophytes
  • Chloroplast genome
  • Cryptothallus
  • Liverworts
  • Parasitic plants

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Molecular Biology
  • Genetics


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