The chloroplast NAD(P)H dehydrogenase-like (NDH) complex consists of about 30 subunits from both the nuclear and chloroplast genomes and is ubiquitous across most land plants. In some orchids, such as Phalaenopsis equestris, Dendrobium officinale and Dendrobium catenatum, most of the 11 chloroplast genome-encoded ndh genes (cp-ndh) have been lost. Here we investigated whether functional cp-ndh genes have been completely lost in these orchids or whether they have been transferred and retained in the nuclear genome. Further, we assessed whether both cp-ndh genes and nucleus-encoded NDH-related genes can be lost, resulting in the absence of the NDH complex. Comparative analyses of the genome of Apostasia odorata, an orchid species with a complete complement of cp-ndh genes which represents the sister lineage to all other orchids, and three published orchid genome sequences for P. equestris, D. officinale and D. catenatum, which are all missing cp-ndh genes, indicated that copies of cp-ndh genes are not present in any of these four nuclear genomes. This observation suggests that the NDH complex is not necessary for some plants. Comparative genomic/transcriptomic analyses of currently available plastid genome sequences and nuclear transcriptome data showed that 47 out of 660 photoautotrophic plants and all the heterotrophic plants are missing plastid-encoded cp-ndh genes and exhibit no evidence for maintenance of a functional NDH complex. Our data indicate that the NDH complex can be lost in photoautotrophic plant species. Further, the loss of the NDH complex may increase the probability of transition from a photoautotrophic to a heterotrophic life history.
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