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Schweizerische Orchideenstiftung
am Herbarium Jany Renz

Dr. Christoph Noelpp
St. Jakobs-Strasse 30
4002 Basel

© 2015 Swiss Orchid Foundation

Botanisches Institut
Universität Basel

SORA Awardee 2011

Dr. Lucienne de Witte

Botanical Institute, University of Basel

Project: The changing role of homeotic mutants in orchid evolution - Hopeless case or hopeful monster?

How fundamental novelties or changes in body plans originate during evolution is still controver­sial among biologists. The Modern Synthesis explains how gradual process by natural selection can be responsible for micro­- and even macro-­evolution. Homeotic mutants, however, that are able to establish stable populations in a natural environment, so-­called "hopeful monsters", prove that a saltational mode of character change is a potential alternative mechanism for speciation. Homeosis is a result of changes in developmental genes and is a type of variation in which "something has been changed into the likeness of something else". In the homeotic mutant Coelogyne leungiana (Orchidaceae), the second perianth whorl of the flower has changed organ identity compared to the wildtype C. fimbriata: petals and lip are sepal­-like. This morphological change was found to corre­late with differences in organ development, in shape of epidermal cells and a different expression of MADS­-box B class genes involved in floral development. An assessment of the evolutionary status of the homeotic mutant identified it as a hopeful monster and the data also indicate that homeosis may be a more common driver of speciation in orchids than generally assumed.

SORA Sponsors 2011

The Swiss Orchid Foundation wishes to thank the following companies for sponsoring the Swiss Orchid Research Award 2011 (in alphabetical order):