Metabolic plasticity, which largely relies on the creation of new genes, is an essential feature of plant adaptation and speciation and has led to the evolution of large gene families. A typical example is provided by the diversification of the cytochrome P450 enzymes in plants. We describe here a retroposition, neofunctionalization, and duplication sequence that, via selective and local amino acid replacement, led to the evolution of a novel phenolic pathway in Brassicaceae. This pathway involves a cascade of six successive hydroxylations by two partially redundant cytochromes P450, leading to the formation of N1,N5-di(hydroxyferuloyl)-N10-sinapoylspermidine, a major pollen constituent and so-far-overlooked player in phenylpropanoid metabolism. This example shows how positive Darwinian selection can favor structured clusters of nonsynonymous substitutions that are needed for the transition of enzymes to new functions.
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