A fundamental paradox motivates the study of plant mitochondrial genomics: the mutation rate is very low (lower than in the nucleus) but the rearrangement rate is high. A landmark paper published in Journal of Molecular Evolution in 1988 established these facts and revealed the paradox. Jeffrey Palmer and Laura Herbon did a prodigious amount of work in the pre-genome sequencing era to identify both the high frequency of rearrangements between closely related species, and the low frequency of mutations, observations that have now been confirmed many times by sequencing. This paper was also the first to use molecular data on rearrangements as a phylogenetic trait to build a parsimonious tree. The work was a technical tour-de-force, its findings are still at the heart of plant mitochondrial genomics, and the underlying molecular mechanisms that produce this paradox are still not completely understood.
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Apologies to Sir Winston Churchill for the title. The author is grateful to Beth Rowan, Emily Wynn, Wayne Riekhof, and members of his lab for helpful comments on the manuscript, and to Jeff Mower for discussions about rearrangements as a phylogenetic trait. This work in his lab is supported by a Grant from the National Science Foundation (MCB-1933590).
Handling editor: Aaron Goldman.
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Christensen, A.C. Plant Mitochondria are a Riddle Wrapped in a Mystery Inside an Enigma. J Mol Evol (2021). https://doi.org/10.1007/s00239-020-09980-y