Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:


Researchers map ’super-tree’ of flowering plants, solving Darwin’s "abominable mystery"


The secret of how flowering plants evolved into one of the Earth’s most dominant and diverse groups of organisms is revealed in study led by researchers from the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew and Imperial College London.

Described by Charles Darwin as an "abominable mystery", the team publish the first complete evolutionary ’super-tree’ of relationships among all families of flowering plants in current edition of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science.

Using a combination of DNA sequence data and statistical techniques for analysing biodiversity, the team concludes that Darwin’s suspicion that there is not a simple explanation for the large biodiversity of flowering plants was correct.

Dr Tim Barraclough of Imperial’s Department of Biological Sciences and the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, says:

"The idea that key evolutionary innovations drive an organism’s ability to diversify has been popular with evolutionary biologists for the past 10 years or so. But there’s a growing consensus that pinning the success of any group on a single innovation, such as insect fertilisation in the case of flowering plants, is too simplistic."

"Instead, the diversity of flowering plant families is the result of interaction between existing biological traits and the environment in which the plant grows. Effectively biodiversity depends on being the right plant in the right place at the right time."

"For example, grasses appear to be very successful because they have a suite of traits that allows them to thrive in cooler and drier environments. Their form of growth also makes them resistant to fire. But the same traits would not confer abundance and diversity in warmer, wetter environments."

In a letter to Joseph Hooker, Kew’s first Director, in 1879, Darwin outlined his "abominable mystery" of flowering plants’ rapid diversification. Darwin described his own efforts to identify a single cause as "wretchedly poor".

Subsequent attempts to understand this diversity have been revolutionized by the recent advent of molecular phylogenetics, which uses DNA sequence analysis to map evolutionary relationships. Using this technique, the team were able to compile the wealth of data from over 40 previous large-scale DNA studies on flowering plants into one super-tree.

"Even a decade ago, researchers said it was impossible to build a complete tree of flowering plant families. But recent advances in molecular phylogenetics have heralded a new era in analysing biodiversity," explains Dr Vincent Savolainen of the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew.

"Our examination of the top 10 major shifts in diversification, which include the grass family and the pea family, indicates they cannot easily be attributed to the action of a few key innovations."

Dr Savolainen added: "The new super-tree will be a unique resource for future studies on plant diversity, ranging from biodiversity, gene evolution and ecological studies. It represents a major step towards the ’Tree of Life’, an international effort to recover the evolutionary relationships of all 1.5 million known species on Earth."

Dr Tim Barraclough and Professor Mark Chase are Royal Society University Research Fellows.

Hannah Rogers | Imperial College London
Further information:

More articles from Life Sciences:

nachricht Gene therapy shows promise for treating Niemann-Pick disease type C1
27.10.2016 | NIH/National Human Genome Research Institute

nachricht 'Neighbor maps' reveal the genome's 3-D shape
27.10.2016 | International School of Advanced Studies (SISSA)

All articles from Life Sciences >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

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

Im Focus: Etching Microstructures with Lasers

Ultrafast lasers have introduced new possibilities in engraving ultrafine structures, and scientists are now also investigating how to use them to etch microstructures into thin glass. There are possible applications in analytics (lab on a chip) and especially in electronics and the consumer sector, where great interest has been shown.

This new method was born of a surprising phenomenon: irradiating glass in a particular way with an ultrafast laser has the effect of making the glass up to a...

Im Focus: Light-driven atomic rotations excite magnetic waves

Terahertz excitation of selected crystal vibrations leads to an effective magnetic field that drives coherent spin motion

Controlling functional properties by light is one of the grand goals in modern condensed matter physics and materials science. A new study now demonstrates how...

Im Focus: New 3-D wiring technique brings scalable quantum computers closer to reality

Researchers from the Institute for Quantum Computing (IQC) at the University of Waterloo led the development of a new extensible wiring technique capable of controlling superconducting quantum bits, representing a significant step towards to the realization of a scalable quantum computer.

"The quantum socket is a wiring method that uses three-dimensional wires based on spring-loaded pins to address individual qubits," said Jeremy Béjanin, a PhD...

Im Focus: Scientists develop a semiconductor nanocomposite material that moves in response to light

In a paper in Scientific Reports, a research team at Worcester Polytechnic Institute describes a novel light-activated phenomenon that could become the basis for applications as diverse as microscopic robotic grippers and more efficient solar cells.

A research team at Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI) has developed a revolutionary, light-activated semiconductor nanocomposite material that can be used...

Im Focus: Diamonds aren't forever: Sandia, Harvard team create first quantum computer bridge

By forcefully embedding two silicon atoms in a diamond matrix, Sandia researchers have demonstrated for the first time on a single chip all the components needed to create a quantum bridge to link quantum computers together.

"People have already built small quantum computers," says Sandia researcher Ryan Camacho. "Maybe the first useful one won't be a single giant quantum computer...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>



Event News

#IC2S2: When Social Science meets Computer Science - GESIS will host the IC2S2 conference 2017

14.10.2016 | Event News

Agricultural Trade Developments and Potentials in Central Asia and the South Caucasus

14.10.2016 | Event News

World Health Summit – Day Three: A Call to Action

12.10.2016 | Event News

Latest News

How nanoscience will improve our health and lives in the coming years

27.10.2016 | Materials Sciences

OU-led team discovers rare, newborn tri-star system using ALMA

27.10.2016 | Physics and Astronomy

'Neighbor maps' reveal the genome's 3-D shape

27.10.2016 | Life Sciences

More VideoLinks >>>