Photosynthesis Research

, Volume 117, Issue 1–3, pp 147–161 | Cite as

Evolution of the C4 photosynthetic pathway: events at the cellular and molecular levels

  • Martha Ludwig


The biochemistry and leaf anatomy of plants using C4 photosynthesis promote the concentration of atmospheric CO2 in leaf tissue that leads to improvements in growth and yield of C4 plants over C3 species in hot, dry, high light, and/or saline environments. C4 plants like maize and sugarcane are significant food, fodder, and bioenergy crops. The C4 photosynthetic pathway is an excellent example of convergent evolution, having evolved in multiple independent lineages of land plants from ancestors employing C3 photosynthesis. In addition to C3 and C4 species, some plant lineages contain closely related C3–C4 intermediate species that demonstrate leaf anatomical, biochemical, and physiological characteristics between those of C3 plants and species using C4 photosynthesis. These groups of plants have been extremely useful in dissecting the modifications to leaf anatomy and molecular biology, which led to the evolution of C4 photosynthesis. It is now clear that great variation exists in C4 leaf anatomy, and diverse molecular mechanisms underlie C4 biochemistry and physiology. However, all these different paths have led to the same destination—the expression of a C4 CO2 concentrating mechanism. Further identification of C4 leaf anatomical traits and molecular biological components, and understanding how they are controlled and assembled will not only allow for additional insights into evolutionary convergence, but also contribute to sustainable food and bioenergy production strategies.


C3–C4 intermediate C4 leaf anatomy C4 photosynthetic enzyme C2 photosynthesis C4 photosynthesis Evolution of C4 photosynthesis 


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© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2013

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.School of Chemistry and BiochemistryThe University of Western AustraliaCrawleyAustralia

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