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Evolution and Development in Plants: Bridging the Gap

Section of Plant Biology, University of California, Davis, California 95616, U.S.A.

Vascular land plants share a common body plan comprising an underground portion, the root system, and an aboveground shoot portion that consists of the stem, leaves, and flowers. Extensive research in model organisms has uncovered numerous genes that play a role in shoot morphogenesis. However, the level of functional conservation of these genes during evolution required to generate the plant body is not known. In addition to variation in gene expression, the regulatory sequences, or noncoding regions of a gene, can also act as significant factors driving morphological traits. A comparative approach that uses analysis of natural variation (e.g., within families and among species) presents several challenges. Progress has been made in utilizing these approaches, but there are limitations to these studies, such as the inability to do forward genetics due to both the lack of mutants and the long generation time of many species. We also emphasize the urgent need to develop genetic and transformation tools in nonmodel species to allow a greater comprehension of the processes regulating species diversification.