In this review, we examine how the specialized “Kranz” anatomy of C4 photosynthesis evolved from C3 ancestors. Kranz anatomy refers to the wreath-like structural traits that compartmentalize the biochemistry of C4 photosynthesis and enables the concentration of CO2 around Rubisco. A simplified version of Kranz anatomy is also present in the species that utilize C2 photosynthesis, where a photorespiratory glycine shuttle concentrates CO2 into an inner bundle-sheath-like compartment surrounding the vascular tissue. C2 Kranz is considered to be an intermediate stage in the evolutionary development of C4 Kranz, based on the intermediate branching position of C2 species in 14 evolutionary lineages of C4 photosynthesis. In the best-supported model of C4 evolution, Kranz anatomy in C2 species evolved from C3 ancestors with enlarged bundle sheath cells and high vein density. Four independent lineages have been identified where C3 sister species of C2 plants exhibit an increase in organelle numbers in the bundle sheath and enlarged bundle sheath cells. Notably, in all of these species, there is a pronounced shift of mitochondria to the inner bundle sheath wall, forming an incipient version of the C2 type of Kranz anatomy. This incipient version of C2 Kranz anatomy is termed proto-Kranz, and is proposed to scavenge photorespiratory CO2. By doing so, it may provide fitness benefits in hot environments, and thus represent a critical first stage of the evolution of both the C2 and C4 forms of Kranz anatomy.
This review examines hypotheses addressing structural/functional changes occurring during the evolution of C4 Kranz anatomy from C3 species and the role of photorespiration in these processes.