The genetic basis of floral symmetry is a topic of great interest because of its effect on pollinator behavior and, consequently, plant diversification. The Asteraceae, which is the largest family of flowering plants, is an ideal system in which to study this trait, as many species within the family exhibit a compound inflorescence containing both bilaterally symmetric (i.e., zygomorphic) and radially symmetric (i.e., actinomorphic) florets. In sunflower and related species, the inflorescence is composed of a single whorl of ray florets surrounding multiple whorls of disc florets. We show that in double-flowered (dbl) sunflower mutants (in which disc florets develop bilateral symmetry), such as those captured by Vincent van Gogh in his famous nineteenth-century sunflower paintings, an insertion into the promoter region of a CYCLOIDEA (CYC)-like gene (HaCYC2c) that is normally expressed specifically in WT rays is instead expressed throughout the inflorescence, presumably resulting in the observed loss of actinomorphy. This same gene is mutated in two independent tubular-rayed (tub) mutants, though these mutations involve apparently recent transposon insertions, resulting in little or no expression and radialization of the normally zygomorphic ray florets. Interestingly, a phylogenetic analysis of CYC-like genes from across the family suggests that different paralogs of this fascinating gene family have been independently recruited to specify zygomorphy in different species within the Asteraceae.
The evolution of flower shape and symmetry is of great interest to plant biologists, because it can affect pollinator behavior. Species in the flowering plant family Asteraceae exhibit flower heads that can contain both bilaterally and radially symmetric flowers. In this study, we identify a CYCLOIDEA-like gene that is responsible for determining flower symmetry in sunflower. Mis-expression of this gene causes adouble-flowered phenotype, similar to those captured in Vincent van Gogh's famous nineteenth-century paintings, whereas loss of gene function causes radialization of the normally bilaterally symmetric ray florets. Interestingly, this gene is not orthologous to the CYCLOIDEA-like gene responsible for floral symmetry in other members of the Asteraceae, providing evidence of the parallel recruitment of different members of the same gene family for the same function.