Paleopolyploidy in the flax genus, Linum

Polyploidy and the evolution of flax

A previous and hitherto unknown whole-genome duplication event also occurred in cultivated flax 20–40 MYA.

Paleopolyploidy in the flax genus, Linum
Paleopolyploidy in the flax genus, Linum

Polyploidy, the duplication of whole genomes, is an important evolutionary force that is especially prevalent in plants. Recent study has revealed that all angiosperms have undergone at least two rounds of ancient whole-genome duplication in addition to several younger, lineage-specific events. These events are thought to have been very important in the evolutionary diversification of flowering plants.

Cultivated flax (Linum usitatissimum) is known to have undergone a whole-genome duplication around 5–9 million years ago. The aim of a recent study in Annals of Botany was to investigate whether other whole-genome duplication events have occurred in the evolutionary history of cultivated flax. Knowledge of such whole-genome duplications will be important in understanding the biology and genomics of cultivated flax.


Sveinsson, S., McDill, J., Wong, G. K., Li, J., Li, X., Deyholos, M. K., & Cronk, Q. C. (2014) Phylogenetic pinpointing of a paleopolyploidy event within the flax genus (Linum) using transcriptomics. Annals of Botany, 113(5), 753-761. doi: 10.1093/aob/mct306
Transcriptomes of 11 Linum species were sequenced using the Illumina platform. The short reads were assembled de novo and the DupPipe pipeline was used to look for signatures of polyploidy events from the age distribution of paralogues. In addition, phylogenies of all paralogues were assembled within an estimated age window of interest. These phylogenies were assessed for evidence of a paleopolyploidy event within the genus Linum.
A previously unknown paleopolyploidy event that occurred 20–40 million years ago was discovered and shown to be specific to a clade within Linum containing cultivated flax (L. usitatissimum) and other mainly blue-flowered species. The finding was supported by two lines of evidence. First, a significant change of slope (peak) was shown in the age distribution of paralogues that was phylogenetically restricted to, and ubiquitous in, this clade. Second, a large number of paralogue phylogenies were retrieved that are consistent with a polyploidy event occurring within that clade.
The results show the utility of multi-species transcriptomics for detecting whole-genome duplication events and demonstrate that that multiple rounds of polyploidy have been important in shaping the evolutionary history of flax. Understanding and characterizing these whole-genome duplication events will be important for future Linum research.


AJ Cann

Alan Cann is a Senior Lecturer in the School of Biological Sciences at the University of Leicester and formerly Internet Consulting Editor for AoB.

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