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Protein family review

A hitchhiker's guide to the MADS world of plants

Lydia Gramzow and Guenter Theissen*

Author Affiliations

Department of Genetics, Friedrich Schiller University Jena, Philosophenweg 12, D-07743 Jena, Germany

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Genome Biology 2010, 11:214  doi:10.1186/gb-2010-11-6-214

Published: 28 June 2010

Abstract

Plant life critically depends on the function of MADS-box genes encoding MADS-domain transcription factors, which are present to a limited extent in nearly all major eukaryotic groups, but constitute a large gene family in land plants. There are two types of MADS-box genes, termed type I and type II, and in plants these groups are distinguished by exon-intron and domain structure, rates of evolution, developmental function and degree of functional redundancy. The type I genes are further subdivided into three groups - Mα, Mβ and Mγ - while the type II genes are subdivided into the MIKCC and MIKC* groups. The functional diversification of MIKCC genes is closely linked to the origin of developmental and morphological novelties in the sporophytic (usually diploid) generation of seed plants, most spectacularly the floral organs and fruits of angiosperms. Functional studies suggest different specializations for the different classes of genes; whereas type I genes may preferentially contribute to female gametophyte, embryo and seed development and MIKC*-group genes to male gametophyte development, the MIKCC-group genes became essential for diverse aspects of sporophyte development. Beyond the usual transcriptional regulation, including feedback and feed-forward loops, various specialized mechanisms have evolved to control the expression of MADS-box genes, such as epigenetic control and regulation by small RNAs. In future, more data from genome projects and reverse genetic studies will allow us to understand the birth, functional diversification and death of members of this dynamic and important family of transcription factors in much more detail.