Self-incompatibility (SI) is the flowering plant reproductive system in which self pollen tube growth is inhibited, thereby preventing self-fertilization. SI has evolved independently in several different flowering plant lineages. In all Brassicaceae species in which the molecular basis of SI has been investigated in detail, the product of the S-locus receptor kinase (SRK) gene functions as receptor in the initial step of the self pollen-rejection pathway, while that of the S-locus cysteine-rich (SCR) gene functions as ligand. Here we examine the hypothesis that the S locus in the Brassicaceae genus Leavenworthia is paralogous with the S locus previously characterized in other members of the family. We also test the hypothesis that self-compatibility in this group is based on disruption of the pollen ligand-producing gene. Sequence analysis of the S-locus genes in Leavenworthia, phylogeny of S alleles, gene expression patterns, and comparative genomics analyses provide support for both hypotheses. Of special interest are two genes located in a non-S locus genomic region of Arabidopsis lyrata that exhibit domain structures, sequences, and phylogenetic histories similar to those of the S-locus genes in Leavenworthia, and that also share synteny with these genes. These A. lyrata genes resemble those comprising the A. lyrata S locus, but they do not function in self-recognition. Moreover, they appear to belong to a lineage that diverged from the ancestral Brassicaceae S-locus genes before allelic diversification at the S locus. We hypothesize that there has been neo-functionalization of these S-locus-like genes in the Leavenworthia lineage, resulting in evolution of a separate ligand-receptor system of SI. Our results also provide support for theoretical models that predict that the least constrained pathway to the evolution of self-compatibility is one involving loss of pollen gene function.
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