Characterization of Linaria KNOX genes suggests a role in petal-spur development

Mathew S. Box, Steven Dodsworth, Paula J. Rudall, Richard M. Bateman, Beverley J. Glover*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Spurs are tubular outgrowths of perianth organs that have evolved iteratively among angiosperms. They typically contain nectar and often strongly influence pollinator specificity, potentially mediating reproductive isolation. The identification of Antirrhinum majus mutants with ectopic petal spurs suggested that petal-spur development is dependent on the expression of KNOTTED 1-like homeobox (KNOX) genes, which are better known for their role in maintaining the shoot apical meristem. Here, we tested the role of KNOX genes in petal-spur development by isolating orthologs of the A. majus KNOX genes Hirzina (AmHirz) and Invaginata (AmIna) from Linaria vulgaris, a related species that differs from A. majus in possessing long, narrow petal spurs. We name these genes LvHirz and LvIna, respectively. Using quantitative reverse-transcription PCR, we show that LvHirz is expressed at high levels in the developing petals and demonstrate that the expression of petal-associated KNOX genes is sufficient to induce sac-like outgrowths on petals in a heterologous host. We propose a model in which KNOX gene expression during early petal-spur development promotes and maintains further morphogenetic potential of the petal, as previously described for KNOX gene function in compound leaf development. These data indicate that petal spurs could have evolved by changes in regulatory gene expression that cause rapid and potentially saltational phenotypic modifications. Given the morphological similarity of spur ontogeny in distantly related taxa, changes in KNOX gene expression patterns could be a shared feature of spur development in angiosperms.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)703-714
Number of pages12
JournalPlant Journal
Issue number4
Early online date13 Sept 2011
Publication statusPublished - 1 Nov 2011


  • evolution
  • flower development
  • KNOX genes
  • Linaria vulgaris
  • petal shape
  • petal spur


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