Ruellia Floral Color (Anthocyanins)

Hybrid Photos

PIs: Erin Tripp, Lucinda McDade

NSF Collaborative Research: Understanding Constraints on Floral Evolution: A Phylogenetic Approach to Comparative Anthocyanin Evolution in Ruellia (Acanthaceae)

Dates: March 2014 – March 2018

Small changes in a few genes involved in plant pigment synthesis, such as in blue, purple, or red anthocyanin pigments, can have dramatic effect on the evolution of lineages – both plants and their pollinators. New floral colors may attract different suites of pollinators, thus influencing lineage diversification and altering the evolutionary trajectories of life on Earth. This project combines new genomic technologies and traditional methods to investigate evolutionary trends in flower color evolution in a large lineage of tropical plants–Ruellia (Acanthaceae)–which has > 300 species in the Neotropics alone. Cutting edge genomic approaches will place the plant anthocyanin biochemical pathway in a comparative evolutionary context and facilitate understanding of how unorthodox floral color transitions, e.g., red-flowered ancestors giving rise to purple-flowered descendants, evolved. A near-complete phylogeny of New World Ruellia will be reconstructed using novel molecular markers (Ultra-Conserved Elements), which are being developed as part of this project. These markers will have substantial utility to related downstream research.

Flowers are among the most common means by which humanity connects to nature. Thus, floral biology has great potential to engage broad audiences in science. This research will shed light on the anthocyanin biochemical pathway, which contributes to numerous important plant functions (e.g., pollinator and fruit disperser attraction, UV sunscreen, herbivore defense), and have also been linked to human health benefits (e.g., anti-cancer, -viral, -inflammatory, -arteriosclerosis activity; treatments for hypertension, vision disorders). Anthocyanins are common constituents of human diets, being found in frequently consumed fruits and vegetables. This research project will add substantially to knowledge of the genetic basis of anthocyanin production and will thus have implications for human health research.

Prospective Postdocs: In 2014, Rancho Santa Ana Botanic Garden will be hiring a postdoc to coordinate and lead 5 extended fieldtrips througout the Neotropics. Contact Lucinda McDade ( with questions. In 2015, The University of Colorado will be hiring one postdoc to spearhead the floral transcriptomics aspects of this research. This postdoc should have extensive, prior training in managing and mining transcriptome data, in this case from a non-model organism and for genes (structural and regulatory) involved in the Anthocyanin Biosynthetic Pathway. Please feel free to contact with further inquiries.