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One of the most important events in the history of life on earth was the colonization of land by plants; this transition coincided with and was most likely enabled by the evolution of 3-dimensional (3D) growth. Today, the diverse morphologies exhibited across the terrestrial biosphere arise from the differential regulation of 3D growth processes during development. In many plants, 3D growth is initiated during the first few divisions of the zygote, and therefore, the genetic basis cannot be dissected because mutants do not survive. However, in mosses, which are representatives of the earliest land plants, 3D shoot growth is preceded by a 2D filamentous phase that can be maintained indefinitely. Here, we used the moss Physcomitrella patens to identify genetic regulators of the 2D to 3D transition. Mutant screens yielded individuals that could only grow in 2D, and through an innovative strategy that combined somatic hybridization with bulk segregant analysis and genome sequencing, the causative mutation was identified in one of them. The NO GAMETOPHORES 1 (NOG1) gene, which encodes a ubiquitin-associated protein, is present only in land plant genomes. In mutants that lack PpNOG1 function, transcripts encoding 3D-promoting PpAPB transcription factors [1] are significantly reduced, and apical initial cells specified for 3D growth are not formed. PpNOG1 acts at the earliest identified stage of the 2D to 3D transition, possibly through degradation of proteins that suppress 3D growth. The acquisition of NOG1 function in land plants could thus have enabled the evolution and development of 3D morphology.

Original publication




Journal article


Curr Biol

Publication Date





473 - 478.e5


developmental transitions, land plant evolution, morphogenesis, somatic hybridization