Background: It is thought that after whole-genome duplications (WGDs), a large fraction of the duplicated gene copies is lost over time while few duplicates are retained. Which factors promote survival or death of a duplicate remains unclear and the underlying mechanisms are poorly understood. According to the model of gene dosage balance, genes encoding interacting proteins are predicted to be preferentially co-retained after WGDs. Among these are genes encoding proteins involved in complexes or in signal transduction.
Results: We have investigated the way that repeated WGDs during land plant evolution have affected cytokinin signaling to study patterns of gene duplicability and co-retention in this important signal transduction pathway. Through the integration of phylogenetic analyses with comparisons of genome collinearity, we have found that signal input mediated by cytokinin receptors proved to be highly conserved over long evolutionary time-scales, with receptors showing predominantly gene loss after repeated WGDs. However, the downstream elements, e,g. response regulators, were mainly retained after WGDs and thereby formed gene families in most plant lineages.
Conclusions: Gene dosage balance between the interacting components indicated by co-retention after WGDs seems to play a minor role in the evolution of cytokinin signaling pathway. Overall, core genes of cytokinin signaling show a highly heterogeneous pattern of gene retention after WGD, reflecting complex relationships between the various factors that shape the long-term fate of a duplicated gene.