Evolution of l-DOPA 4,5-dioxygenase activity allows for recurrent specialisation to betalain pigmentation in Caryophyllales.
The evolution of l-DOPA 4,5-dioxygenase activity, encoded by the gene DODA, was a key step in the origin of betalain biosynthesis in Caryophyllales. We previously proposed that l-DOPA 4,5-dioxygenase activity evolved via a single Caryophyllales-specific neofunctionalisation event within the DODA gene lineage. However, this neofunctionalisation event has not been confirmed and the DODA gene lineage exhibits numerous gene duplication events, whose evolutionary significance is unclear. To address this, we functionally characterised 23 distinct DODA proteins for l-DOPA 4,5-dioxygenase activity, from four betalain-pigmented and five anthocyanin-pigmented species, representing key evolutionary transitions across Caryophyllales. By mapping these functional data to an updated DODA phylogeny, we then explored the evolution of l-DOPA 4,5-dioxygenase activity. We find that low l-DOPA 4,5-dioxygenase activity is distributed across the DODA gene lineage. In this context, repeated gene duplication events within the DODA gene lineage give rise to polyphyletic occurrences of elevated l-DOPA 4,5-dioxygenase activity, accompanied by convergent shifts in key functional residues and distinct genomic patterns of micro-synteny. In the context of an updated organismal phylogeny and newly inferred pigment reconstructions, we argue that repeated convergent acquisition of elevated l-DOPA 4,5-dioxygenase activity is consistent with recurrent specialisation to betalain synthesis in Caryophyllales.