A HORT1 retrotransposon insertion in the PeMYB11 promoter causes harlequin/black flowers in Phalaenopsis Orchids

Chia Chi Hsu, Ching Jen Su, Mei Fen Jeng, Wen Huei Chen, Hong Hwa Chen

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14 Citations (Scopus)


The harlequin/black flowers in Phalaenopsis orchids contain dark purple spots and various pigmentation patterns, which appeared as a new color in 1996. We analyzed this phenotype by microscopy, HPLC, gene functional characterization, genome structure analysis, and transient overexpression system to obtain a better understanding of the black color formation in Phalaenopsis orchids. Most mesophyll cells of harlequin flowers showed extremely high accumulation of anthocyanins as well as a high expression of Phalaenopsis equestris MYB11 (PeMYB11) as the major regulatory R2R3-MYB transcription factor for regulating the production of the black color. In addition, we analyzed the expression of basic helix-loop-helix factors, WD40 repeat proteins, and MYB27- and MYBx-like repressors for their association with the spot pattern formation. To understand the high expression of PeMYB11 in harlequin flowers, we isolated the promoter sequences of PeMYB11 from red and harlequin flowers. A retrotransposon, named Harlequin Orchid RetroTransposon 1 (HORT1), was identified and inserted in the upstream regulatory region of PeMYB11. The insertion resulted in strong expression of PeMYB11 and thus extremely high accumulation of anthocyanins in the harlequin flowers of the Phalaenopsis Yushan Little Pearl variety. A dual luciferase assay showed that the insertion of HORT1 enhanced PeMYB11 expression by at least 2-fold compared with plants not carrying the insertion. Furthermore, the presence of HORT1 explains the high mutation rates resulting in many variations of pigmentation patterning in harlequin flowers of Phalaenopsis orchids.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1535-1548
Number of pages14
JournalPlant Physiology
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 2019 Jul

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Physiology
  • Genetics
  • Plant Science


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