Aquilegia produce elongated, three-dimensional petal spurs that fill with nectar to attract pollinators. Previous studies have shown that the diversity of spur length across the Aquilegia genus is a key innovation that is tightly linked with its recent and rapid diversification into new ranges, and that evolution of increased spur lengths is achieved via anisotropic cell elongation. Previous work identified a brassinosteroid response transcription factor as being enriched in the early developing spur cup. Brassinosteroids are known to be important for cell elongation, suggesting that brassinosteroid-mediated response may be an important regulator of spur elongation and potentially a driver of spur length diversity in Aquilegia. In this study, Stephanie Conway and colleagues investigated the role of brassinosteroids in the development of the Aquilegia coerulea petal spur.
The scientists identified a total of three Aquilegia homologues of the BES1/BZR1 protein family and found that these genes are ubiquitously expressed in all floral tissues during development, yet, consistent with the previous RNAseq study, they found that two of these paralogues are enriched in early developing petals. Exogenously applied brassinosteroid increased petal spur length due to increased anisotropic cell elongation as well as cell division. They found that targeting of the AqBEH genes with virus-induced gene silencing resulted in shortened petals, a phenotype caused in part by a loss of cell anisotropy.
Conway and colleagues’ results collectively support a role for brassinosteroids in anisotropic cell expansion in Aquilegia petal spurs and highlight the brassinosteroid pathway as a potential player in the diversification of petal spur length in Aquilegia.
Conway, S.J., Walcher-Chevillet, C.L., Salome Barbour, K., Kramer, E.M., 2021. Brassinosteroids regulate petal spur length in Aquilegia by controlling cell elongation. Annals of Botany. https://doi.org/10.1093/aob/mcab116