While some secondary metabolites have a wide distribution flavonoids, triterpenes, pinitol , however, others occur in a limited number of taxa.
The distributions of secondary metabolites with an irregular occurrence are mapped on a molecular phylogeny of the Fabaceae, reconstructed from a combined data set of nucleotide sequences from rbc L, matK and ITS genes. In most cases, the distribution patterns of secondary metabolites do not agree with the phylogeny of the plants producing them.
In contrary, the distribution of many secondary metabolites is patchy and irregular. Thus, the use of phytochemical data to reconstruct a phylogeny of plants is often not informative and can be misleading. The patchy distribution may be due to convergent evolution, a contribution of endophytic fungi or more likely, to an early acquisition of the key genes of secondary metabolism in the evolution of land plants among others by horizontal gene transfer from bacteria.
Thus it would be a matter of gene regulation whether these genes are active in some but not all taxa.
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Dictionary of plants containing secondary metabolites, John S. Glasby, Taylor and Francis, Basingstoke, No. of pages: , price £ Previous article in issue: Inorganic chemical nomenclature. Von B. P. Block, W. H. Powell und W. C. Fernelius. American Chemical Society.
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