Evidence for land plant cell wall biosynthetic mechanisms in charophyte green algae Academic Article uri icon


  • BACKGROUND AND AIMS: The charophyte green algae (CGA) are thought to be the closest living relatives to the land plants, and ancestral CGA were unique in giving rise to the land plant lineage. The cell wall has been suggested to be a defining structure that enabled the green algal ancestor to colonize land. These cell walls provide support and protection, are a source of signalling molecules, and provide developmental cues for cell differentiation and elongation. The cell wall of land plants is a highly complex fibre composite, characterized by cellulose cross-linked by non-cellulosic polysaccharides, such as xyloglucan, embedded in a matrix of pectic polysaccharides. How the land plant cell wall evolved is currently unknown: early-divergent chlorophyte and prasinophyte algae genomes contain a low number of glycosyl transferases (GTs), while land plants contain hundreds. The number of GTs in CGA is currently unknown, as no genomes are available, so this study sought to give insight into the evolution of the biosynthetic machinery of CGA through an analysis of available transcriptomes. METHODS: Available CGA transcriptomes were mined for cell wall biosynthesis GTs and compared with GTs characterized in land plants. In addition, gene cloning was employed in two cases to answer important evolutionary questions. KEY RESULTS: Genetic evidence was obtained indicating that many of the most important core cell wall polysaccharides have their evolutionary origins in the CGA, including cellulose, mannan, xyloglucan, xylan and pectin, as well as arabino-galactan protein. Moreover, two putative cellulose synthase-like D family genes (CSLDs) from the CGA species Coleochaete orbicularis and a fragment of a putative CSLA/K-like sequence from a CGA Spirogyra species were cloned, providing the first evidence that all the cellulose synthase/-like genes present in early-divergent land plants were already present in CGA. CONCLUSIONS: The results provide new insights into the evolution of cell walls and support the notion that the CGA were pre-adapted to life on land by virtue of the their cell wall biosynthetic capacity. These findings are highly significant for understanding plant cell wall evolution as they imply that some features of land plant cell walls evolved prior to the transition to land, rather than having evolved as a result of selection pressures inherent in this transition.

publication date

  • 2014