Many tropical and subtropical plant lineages have independently evolved C4 photosynthesis. The convergent evolution of this complex functional trait from different ancestors is reflected in variations in the structural and biochemical characteristics of C4 components such as enzymes and cellular specializations. The mechanism of C4 carbon concentration mostly involves coordinated function of mesophyll and bundle sheath cells. Important adaptations of the C4 syndrome include increased vein density and the development of photosynthetic bundle sheath cells with low gas conductance. In addition, the enzymes and transporters of the C4 pathway evolved via the co-option of multiple genes, each derived from a specific lineage of isoforms present in nonC4-ancestors. In particular, the adaptation of C4 enzymes resulted in a variety of structural and biochemical modifications, generally leading to increased catalytic efficiency and regulation by metabolites and post-translational modifications. Differences in these adaptations are particularly evident in the C4-acid decarboxylation step, which can be catalyzed by three decarboxylases that define the C4 subtypes. Associated with the biochemical subtypes, there are also differences in the extend of grana staking and localization of bundle sheath cells chloroplasts. The presence of a suberin layer and symplastic connections also likely vary among the different C4-subtypes. This review examines the current understanding of the diversity of structural and functional changes in key components of the C4 carbon concentration mechanism. This knowledge is necessary not only to identify divergent solutions for convergent optimization of C4 components in different C4 lineages, but also to guide their creation for rational synthetic biology approaches.

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