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The biosynthesis and evolution of pseudo-pheromones in Chiloglottis orchids

Start date:
01 Jan 2015
End date:
31 Dec 2020
Professor Rod Peakall (Australian National University) Professor Eran Pichersky (University of Michigan) Associate Professor Celeste Linde (Australian National University) Dr Peter Weston (National Herbarium of New South Wales)
Project sponsors:
Australian Research Council
Project partners:
Australian National University, University of Michigan

Project aims

  • To elucidate the pathways by which Chiloglottis orchids synthesize chemicals (pseudo-pheromones) that mimic the sexual pheromones of female wasps
  • To reconstruct the phylogenetic tree of evolutionary relationships between Chiloglottis orchids
  • To trace the evolution of biosynthetic pathways of pseudo-pheromones in Chiloglottis
  • To identify the ancestral chemicals from which pseudo-pheromones evolve

Project Summary

Many plants secure pollination by attracting animal pollinators, but how these crucial interactions evolved largely remains a mystery. Australia is a world centre for the evolution of sexual deception in which hundreds of orchids use pseudo-pheromones to sexually lure their pollinators. In this study we will 1. characterise the biosynthetic pathway and molecular basis of these unique chemicals, 2. investigate speciation processes with robust orchid phylogenies, 3. reveal new insights into the evolution of animal pollination. This work will also discover new enzymes and genes, potentially unlocking new tools for producing novel and useful chemicals.

Research Update

The project started only recently, with collection of selected Chiloglottis species for cultivation, and preliminary biochemical work.