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Specific protein-protein interactions (PPIs) enable biological regulation. However, the evolution of PPI specificity is little understood. Here we trace the evolution of the land-plant growth-regulatory DELLA-SLY1/GID2 PPI, revealing progressive increase in specificity of affinity of SLY1/GID2 for a particular DELLA form. While early-diverging SLY1s display relatively broad-range DELLA affinity, later-diverging SLY1s tend towards increasingly stringent affinity for a specific DELLA A' form generated by the growth-promoting phytohormone gibberellin (GA). Our novel mutational strategy reveals amino acid substitutions contributing to the evolution of Arabidopsis thaliana SLY1 A' specificity, also showing that routes permitting reversion to broader affinity became increasingly constrained over evolutionary time. We suggest that progressive affinity narrowing may be an important evolutionary driver of PPI specificity and that increase in SLY1/GID2-DELLA specificity enabled the enhanced flexibility of plant physiological environmental adaptation conferred by the GA-DELLA growth-regulatory mechanism.

Original publication




Journal article


Nat Plants

Publication Date