Science 2014 Feb 16;343(6171):645-8. Epub 2014 Jan 16.
CNRS, Laboratoire de Physiologie Cellulaire et Végétale (LPCV), UMR 5168, 38054 Grenoble, France.
Transcription factors (TFs) are key players in evolution. Changes affecting their function can yield novel life forms but may also have deleterious effects. Consequently, gene duplication events that release one gene copy from selective pressure are thought to be the common mechanism by which TFs acquire new activities. Here, we show that LEAFY, a major regulator of flower development and cell division in land plants, underwent changes to its DNA binding specificity, even though plant genomes generally contain a single copy of the LEAFY gene. We examined how these changes occurred at the structural level and identify an intermediate LEAFY form in hornworts that appears to adopt all different specificities. This promiscuous intermediate could have smoothed the evolutionary transitions, thereby allowing LEAFY to evolve new binding specificities while remaining a single-copy gene.