Genomic comparison of non-photosynthetic plants from the family Balanophoraceae with their photosynthetic relatives

Mikhail I. Schelkunov, Maxim S. Nuraliev, Maria D. Logacheva

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

2 Citations (Scopus)


The plant family Balanophoraceae consists entirely of species that have lost the ability to photosynthesize. Instead, they obtain nutrients by parasitizing other plants. Recent studies have revealed that plastid genomes of Balanophoraceae exhibit a number of interesting features, one of the most prominent of those being a highly elevated AT content of nearly 90%. Additionally, the nucleotide substitution rate in the plastid genomes of Balanophoraceae is an order of magnitude greater than that of their photosynthetic relatives without signs of relaxed selection. Currently, there are no definitive explanations for these features. Given these unusual features, we hypothesised that the nuclear genomes of Balanophoraceae may also provide valuable information in regard to understanding the evolution of non-photosynthetic plants. To gain insight into these genomes, in the present study we analysed the transcriptomes of two Balanophoraceae species (Rhopalocnemis phalloides and Balanophora fungosa) and compared them to the transcriptomes of their close photosynthetic relatives (Daenikera sp., Dendropemon caribaeus, and Malania oleifera). Our analysis revealed that the AT content of the nuclear genes of Balanophoraceae did not markedly differ from that of the photosynthetic relatives. The nucleotide substitution rate in the genes of Balanophoraceae is, for an unknown reason, several-fold larger than in the genes of photosynthetic Santalales; however, the negative selection in Balanophoraceae is likely stronger. We observed an extensive loss of photosynthesis-related genes in the Balanophoraceae family members. Additionally, we did not observe transcripts of several genes whose products function in plastid genome repair. This implies their loss or very low expression, which may explain the increased nucleotide substitution rate and AT content of the plastid genomes.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere12106
Publication statusPublished - 31 Aug 2021


  • Balanophoraceae
  • Heterotrophic plants
  • Non-photosynthetic plants
  • Parasitic plants
  • Santalales


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