A research team led by University of Michigan evolutionary biologist Yin-Long Qiu has new findings that help resolve long-debated questions about the origin and evolution of land plants. The work will be published online this week in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
Two major steps kicked off the chain of events that helped land plants prosper, forming the basis for modern land-based ecosystems and fundamentally altering the course of evolution of life on earth, said Qiu. The first step was the colonization of land by descendents of aquatic plants known as charophyte algae. That event opened up a vast new world where the sun's intensity was undiminished by passage through water and where carbon dioxide—another essential ingredient for plant life—was abundant.
The second event was a key change in plant life cycles. Plants exhibit a phenomenon known as alternation of generations, in which two alternating forms with different amounts of DNA make up a complete life cycle. One form, known as a sporophyte, produces spores, which grow into individuals of the other form, called gametophytes. Gametophytes produce gametes—eggs and sperm—which unite to form a fertilized egg capable of becoming a new sporophyte, thus completing a life cycle. While all plants exhibit alternation of generations, some spend most of their life cycle as sporophytes, and others spend more time in the gametophyte phase.
"Early in the history of plant evolution, a shift occurred," said Qiu, an assistant professor of ecology and evolutionary biology. "If you look at the so-called 'lower' plants such as algae, liverworts and mosses, they spend most of their life cycle as gametophytes. But if you look at plants like ferns, pines and flowering plants, they spend most of their time as sporophytes. Geneticists, developmental biologists and evolutionists have been wondering how the switch happened and have put forth two competing hypotheses."
For each hypothesis, scientists have come up with an evolutionary scheme showing how different plant lineages should be related to explain the generation shift. Studies over the last century have produced conflicting results on relationships among early land plant lineages, leaving unanswered the most critical question of how the shift in alternation of generations occurred. Qiu's group used three complementary sets of genetic data, involving more than 700 gene sequences, to resolve relationships among the four major lineages of land plants: liverworts, mosses, hornworts and vascular plants (which include ferns, pines and flowering plants). Their analysis showed that liverworts—tiny green, ribbon-like plants often found along river banks—represent the first lineage that diverged from other land plants when charophyte algae first came onto land, and an obscure group called hornworts, often found in abandoned corn fields, represents the progenitors of the vascular plants.
"Basically we captured a few major events that happened in the first few tens of millions of years of land plant evolution," Qiu said. The results make sense in light of the plants' life cycle patterns. Charophyte algae, liverworts and mosses spend most of the cycle in a free-living gametophyte phase; the sporophyte is a small, short-lived organism that lives on the gametophyte. Vascular plants, on the other hand, spend most of their time as free-living sporophytes, with small, short-lived, gametophytes that often live on the sporophytes. Hornworts may hold a clue to understanding how this shift happened, as they spend most of their life cycle in the gametophyte phase, but their sporophytes---unlike those of liverworts and mosses—show a tendency to become free-living.
Understanding evolutionary relationships among plant groups is crucial to understanding their biology, just as understanding relationships among primates advances our knowledge of human behavior, anatomy and physiology, Qiu said.
"As humans, we're always interested in knowing where we came from and why we are different from other primates," Qiu said. "Now that we know, from phylogenetic analyses, that our closest relative is the chimpanzee, we can compare the chimpanzee genome with our own genome and compare the chimpanzee brain with our own brain and compare chimpanzee behavior with human behavior.
But this all assumes we know the chimpanzee is our brother. What if we didn't know? Understanding evolutionary history really is the foundation of biology, and with today's emphasis on biofuels and medically important plants, it should be clear how important it is to learn the evolutionary history of all the organisms on our planet."
Qiu collaborated on the project with 20 other researchers from the University of Michigan; the University of Massachusetts, Amherst; the Chinese Academy of Sciences; Universitat Bonn in Germany; the University of Chicago; Southern Illinois University; the University of Akron in Ohio; Freie Universitat Berlin in Germany; Dresden University of Technology in Germany and Harvard University. The U.S. National Science Foundation, the National Natural Science Foundation of China and the Michigan Society of Fellows provided funding.
Nancy Ross-Flanigan | EurekAlert!
Cancer diagnosis: no more needles?
25.05.2018 | Christian-Albrechts-Universität zu Kiel
Less is more? Gene switch for healthy aging found
25.05.2018 | Leibniz-Institut für Alternsforschung - Fritz-Lipmann-Institut e.V. (FLI)
The more electronics steer, accelerate and brake cars, the more important it is to protect them against cyber-attacks. That is why 15 partners from industry and academia will work together over the next three years on new approaches to IT security in self-driving cars. The joint project goes by the name Security For Connected, Autonomous Cars (SecForCARs) and has funding of €7.2 million from the German Federal Ministry of Education and Research. Infineon is leading the project.
Vehicles already offer diverse communication interfaces and more and more automated functions, such as distance and lane-keeping assist systems. At the same...
A research team led by physicists at the Technical University of Munich (TUM) has developed molecular nanoswitches that can be toggled between two structurally different states using an applied voltage. They can serve as the basis for a pioneering class of devices that could replace silicon-based components with organic molecules.
The development of new electronic technologies drives the incessant reduction of functional component sizes. In the context of an international collaborative...
At the LASYS 2018, from June 5th to 7th, the Laser Zentrum Hannover e.V. (LZH) will be showcasing processes for the laser material processing of tomorrow in hall 4 at stand 4E75. With blown bomb shells the LZH will present first results of a research project on civil security.
At this year's LASYS, the LZH will exhibit light-based processes such as cutting, welding, ablation and structuring as well as additive manufacturing for...
There are videos on the internet that can make one marvel at technology. For example, a smartphone is casually bent around the arm or a thin-film display is rolled in all directions and with almost every diameter. From the user's point of view, this looks fantastic. From a professional point of view, however, the question arises: Is that already possible?
At Display Week 2018, scientists from the Fraunhofer Institute for Applied Polymer Research IAP will be demonstrating today’s technological possibilities and...
So-called quantum many-body scars allow quantum systems to stay out of equilibrium much longer, explaining experiment | Study published in Nature Physics
Recently, researchers from Harvard and MIT succeeded in trapping a record 53 atoms and individually controlling their quantum state, realizing what is called a...
25.05.2018 | Event News
02.05.2018 | Event News
13.04.2018 | Event News
25.05.2018 | Event News
25.05.2018 | Machine Engineering
25.05.2018 | Life Sciences