Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America 118(30) ( 2021)
Uncovering the basis of small-molecule hormone receptors’ evolution is paramount to a complete understanding of how protein structure drives function. In plants, hormone receptors for strigolactones are well suited to evolutionary inquiries because closely related homologs have different ligand preferences. More importantly, because of facile plant transgenic systems, receptors can be swapped and quickly assessed functionally in vivo. Here, we show that only three mutations are required to turn the nonstrigolactone receptor, KAI2, into a receptor that recognizes the plant hormone strigolactone. This modified receptor still retains its native function to perceive KAI2 ligands. Our directed evolution studies indicate that only a few keystone mutations are required to increase receptor promiscuity of KAI2, which may have implications for strigolactone receptor evolution in parasitic plants.