The plastid genome (plastome) is a rich source of phylogenetic and other comparative data in plants. Most land plants possess a plastome of similar structure. However, in a major group of plants, the ferns, a unique plastome structure has evolved. The gene order in ferns has been explained by a series of genomic inversions relative to the plastome organization of seed plants. Here, we examine for the first time the structure of the plastome across fern phylogeny. We used a PCR-based strategy to map and partially sequence plastomes. We found that a pair of partially overlapping inversions in the region of the inverted repeat occurred in the common ancestor of most ferns. However, the ancestral (seed plant) structure is still found in early diverging branches leading to the osmundoid and filmy fern lineages. We found that a second pair of overlapping inversions occurred on a branch leading to the core leptosporangiates. We also found that the unique placement of the gene matK in ferns (lacking a flanking intron) is not a result of a large-scale inversion, as previously thought. This is because the intron loss maps to an earlier point on the phylogeny than the nearby inversion. We speculate on why inversions may occur in pairs and what this may mean for the dynamics of plastome evolution.
Wolf, P. G., *Roper, J. M., *Duffy, A. M. 2010. The evolution of chloroplast genome structure in ferns. Genome 53: 731-738.