Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

New genetic study helps to solve Darwin's mystery about the ancient evolution of flowering plants

11.04.2011
The evolution and diversification of the more than 300,000 living species of flowering plants may have been "jump started" much earlier than previously calculated, a new study indicates.

According to Claude dePamphilis, a professor of biology at Penn State University and the lead author of the study, which includes scientists at six universities, two major upheavals in the plant genome occurred hundreds of millions of years ago -- nearly 200 million years earlier than the events that other research groups had described.

The research also indicates that these upheavals produced thousands of new genes that may have helped drive the evolutionary explosion that led to the rich diversity of present-day flowering plants. The study, which provides a wealth of new genetic data and a more precise evolutionary time scale, is expected to change the way biologists view the family trees of plants in general and flowering plants in particular. The research findings will be posted on the early-online website of the journal Nature on 10 April 2011, and later will be published in the journal.

"We began with some intense genomic detective work -- combing through nine previously sequenced plant genomes, plus millions of new gene sequences that the Ancestral Angiosperm Genome Project (http://ancangio.uga.edu/) had gathered from the earliest surviving lineages of flowering plants," dePamphilis said. "We knew that, at some point in ancient history, one or more important genetic metamorphoses had occurred in the ancestor of flowering plants, and we also knew that these metamorphoses could explain the enormous success of so many species living on the Earth today. Most importantly, we suspected that these important changes had been driven by a common mechanism instead of by many independent events." DePamphilis explained that, after examining volumes of molecular evidence, his team discovered and calculated the dates for two instances of a special kind of DNA mutation -- called a polyploidy event -- that revolutionized the flowering-plant lineage.

"A polyploidy event is basically the acquisition, through mutation, of a 'double dose' of genetic material," explained Yuannian Jiao, a graduate student at Penn State and the first author of the study. "In vertebrates, although genome duplication is known to occur, it generally is lethal. Plants, on the other hand, often survive and can sometimes benefit from duplicated genomes." Jiao explained that, over the generations, most duplicated genes from polyploidy events simply are lost. However, other genes adopt new functions or, in some instances, subdivide the workload with the genetic segments that were duplicated, thereby cultivating more efficiency and better specialization of tasks for the genome as a whole.

Jiao also explained that, although ancient events of polyploidy have been well documented in plant-genome-sequencing projects, biologists had dated the earliest polyploidy event in flowering plants at around 125 to 150 million years ago. "There were hints that even earlier events had occurred, but no good evidence," Jiao said. "That's what makes our team's findings so exciting. We identified at least two major events -- one occurring in the ancestor of all seed plants about 320 million years ago, and another occurring in the flowering-plant lineage specifically, about 192 to 210 million years ago. That's up to 200 million years earlier than such events were assumed to have taken place."

DePamphilis added that such polyploidy events probably set in motion a kind of genomic renaissance, and that present-day varieties now are reaping the rewards. "Thanks to events such as these, where vast stretches of DNA have been duplicated and added to the genome, flowering plants have been able to evolve new and better functions. They have seized on the opportunity to become so diverse, so exquisite, and so prevalent," dePamphilis said. He explained that his team was able to trace the history of some of the major genes that define how flowering plants work. "Some of these new genes led to true innovations and have become vital parts of the genetic toolkit for the regulation of flower development," he said. "In other words, without the genes that these polyploidy events helped to create, flowering plants as we know them today probably would not exist."

DePamphilis also said that, thanks to the two polyploidy events that his research team identified, flowering plants may have enjoyed a distinct evolutionary advantage that allowed them to survive harsh climate changes and even mass extinctions. One such extinction that was accompanied by more-recent polyploidy events in several flowering-plant groups was the Cretaceous–Tertiary extinction event (the K-T event) -- a mass extinction of animals and plants that occurred approximately 65.5 million years ago that may have been triggered by a massive asteroid impact.

"Ever since Charles Darwin so famously called the rapid diversification of flowering plants in the fossil record an 'abominable mystery,' generations of scientists have worked to solve this puzzle," dePamphilis said. "We used to say that most of the hundreds of thousands of successful species of flowering plants show genetic traces of ancient polyploidy events. The further we push back the date of when these events happened, the more confidently we can claim that, not most, but all flowering plants are the result of large-scale duplications of the genome. It's possible that the important polyploidy events we've identified were the equivalent of two 'big bangs' for flowering plants."

In addition to dePamphilis and Jiao, other researchers who contributed to the study include Norman J. Wickett, Lena Landherr, Paula E. Ralph, Lynn P. Tomsho, Yi Hu, Stephan C. Schuster, and Hong Ma from Penn State; Saravanaraj Ayyampalayam and Jim Leebens-Mack from the University of Georgia; André S. Chanderbali, Pamela S. Soltis, and Douglas E. Soltis from the University of Florida; Haiying Liang from Clemson University; Sandra W. Clifton from Washington University; and Scott E. Schlarbaum from the University of Tennessee.

The work was funded, primarily, by the National Science Foundation Plant Genome Research Program (the Ancestral Angiosperm Genome Project), and, in part, by the Penn State Department of Biology, the Huck Institutes of the Life Sciences at Penn State, and Fudan University in China.

CONTACTS
Claude dePamphilis: 814-321-2256, cwd3@psu.edu
Barbara Kennedy (PIO): 814-863-4682, science@psu.edu

Barbara Kennedy | EurekAlert!
Further information:
http://www.psu.edu

Further reports about: Angiosperm DNA Genom flowering plant mass extinction

More articles from Life Sciences:

nachricht Symbiotic bacteria: from hitchhiker to beetle bodyguard
28.04.2017 | Johannes Gutenberg-Universität Mainz

nachricht Nose2Brain – Better Therapy for Multiple Sclerosis
28.04.2017 | Fraunhofer-Institut für Grenzflächen- und Bioverfahrenstechnik IGB

All articles from Life Sciences >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: Making lightweight construction suitable for series production

More and more automobile companies are focusing on body parts made of carbon fiber reinforced plastics (CFRP). However, manufacturing and repair costs must be further reduced in order to make CFRP more economical in use. Together with the Volkswagen AG and five other partners in the project HolQueSt 3D, the Laser Zentrum Hannover e.V. (LZH) has developed laser processes for the automatic trimming, drilling and repair of three-dimensional components.

Automated manufacturing processes are the basis for ultimately establishing the series production of CFRP components. In the project HolQueSt 3D, the LZH has...

Im Focus: Wonder material? Novel nanotube structure strengthens thin films for flexible electronics

Reflecting the structure of composites found in nature and the ancient world, researchers at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign have synthesized thin carbon nanotube (CNT) textiles that exhibit both high electrical conductivity and a level of toughness that is about fifty times higher than copper films, currently used in electronics.

"The structural robustness of thin metal films has significant importance for the reliable operation of smart skin and flexible electronics including...

Im Focus: Deep inside Galaxy M87

The nearby, giant radio galaxy M87 hosts a supermassive black hole (BH) and is well-known for its bright jet dominating the spectrum over ten orders of magnitude in frequency. Due to its proximity, jet prominence, and the large black hole mass, M87 is the best laboratory for investigating the formation, acceleration, and collimation of relativistic jets. A research team led by Silke Britzen from the Max Planck Institute for Radio Astronomy in Bonn, Germany, has found strong indication for turbulent processes connecting the accretion disk and the jet of that galaxy providing insights into the longstanding problem of the origin of astrophysical jets.

Supermassive black holes form some of the most enigmatic phenomena in astrophysics. Their enormous energy output is supposed to be generated by the...

Im Focus: A Quantum Low Pass for Photons

Physicists in Garching observe novel quantum effect that limits the number of emitted photons.

The probability to find a certain number of photons inside a laser pulse usually corresponds to a classical distribution of independent events, the so-called...

Im Focus: Microprocessors based on a layer of just three atoms

Microprocessors based on atomically thin materials hold the promise of the evolution of traditional processors as well as new applications in the field of flexible electronics. Now, a TU Wien research team led by Thomas Müller has made a breakthrough in this field as part of an ongoing research project.

Two-dimensional materials, or 2D materials for short, are extremely versatile, although – or often more precisely because – they are made up of just one or a...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

Event News

Fighting drug resistant tuberculosis – InfectoGnostics meets MYCO-NET² partners in Peru

28.04.2017 | Event News

Expert meeting “Health Business Connect” will connect international medical technology companies

20.04.2017 | Event News

Wenn der Computer das Gehirn austrickst

18.04.2017 | Event News

 
Latest News

Wireless power can drive tiny electronic devices in the GI tract

28.04.2017 | Medical Engineering

Ice cave in Transylvania yields window into region's past

28.04.2017 | Earth Sciences

Nose2Brain – Better Therapy for Multiple Sclerosis

28.04.2017 | Life Sciences

VideoLinks
B2B-VideoLinks
More VideoLinks >>>