Systematics and genome evolution in Carex subg. Vignea

Supported by NSF-DEB Award #0743157, 2008-2012

The evolution of chromosome arrangements and genome organization plays a fundamental role in speciation and the diversification of lineages. While numerous studies have focused on modification of genome structure associated with speciation or the influence of polyploidy on diversification, there has been no detailed phylogenetic comparative study of chromosome and genome evolution in a large, densely sampled clade. This project is a collaboration between myself, Eric Roalson (Washington State University), Kyong-Sook Chung, and other colleagues to investigate the systematics of Carex subg. Vignea using DNA sequence data, cytological data, and genome size measurements. While active funding has ended, we continue to work on this project.


Carex is the largest genus in the angiosperm order Cyperales, a clade that has undergone one of the highest rates of diversification among angiosperms. This clade, composed of the sedges (Cyperaceae) and rushes (Juncaceae), is marked by holocentric chromosomes, which lack the localized centromeres typical of most organisms. Holocentric chromosomes are fascinating in that fragments resulting from breakages during meiosis or mitosis have the potential to segregate in Mendelian fashion, and artificial hybrids between different euploid chromosome races (e.g., between plants of 2n = 24 and 2n = 26) produce individuals of the median count between the two in the first (F1) generation. They have the potential to evolve rapidly by fission (breakages without duplication) and fusion rather than by reciprocal translocation or duplication. Although intraspecific chromosomal variants are typically not entirely reproductively isolated from one another, chromosome rearrangements nonetheless appears to play a role in rapid lineage diversification by reducing hybridization between divergent populations that come into secondary contact. Holocentric chromosomes are limited to some members of the Arthropoda; nematodes, including Caenorhabditis elegans; a few algae; and several angiosperm clades, including the Juncaceae and Cyperaceae, Cuscuta subgenus Cuscuta, Chionographis, and Myristica fragrans. This chromosomal feature has been described as "the only striking, derived chromosomal character for angiosperm macrosystematics" (Greilhuber 1995). Yet despite the biological implications of holocentry, the coordinated evolution of genomes and chromosome arrangements in organisms with holocentric chromosomes has never been studied, and the only detailed studies of genome structure in holocentric organisms have been in C. elegans, the wood rush Luzula, and Colias butterflies.

Project overview

This project has as its major aims (1) developing a revised taxonomic framework using DNA sequence data, (2) reconstructing the coordinated evolution of genome size and chromosome number, and (3) training researchers at the undergraduate, graduate, and postgraduate levels in biosystematic methods. Specific goals of the project: