Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:


University of Florida study provides insight into evolution of first flowers

Charles Darwin described the sudden origin of flowering plants about 130 million years ago as an abominable mystery, one that scientists have yet to solve.

But a new University of Florida study, set to appear next week in the online edition of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, is helping shed light on the mystery with information about what the first flowers looked like and how they evolved from nonflowering plants.

"There was nothing like them before and nothing like them since," said Andre Chanderbali, lead author of the study and a postdoctoral associate at UF's Florida Museum of Natural History. "The origin of the flower is the key to the origin of the angiosperms (flowering plants)."

The goal of this research is to understand the original regulatory program, or set of genetic switches, that produced the first flower in the common ancestor of all living flowering plants, said Pam Soltis, study co-author and curator of molecular systematics and evolutionary genetics at the Florida Museum. Better understanding of these genetic switches could one day help scientists in other disciplines such as medicine or agriculture, including help in growing plants used to fight disease or developing more drought-resistant crops.

The flower is one of the key innovations of evolution, responsible for a massive burst of evolution that has resulted in perhaps as many as 400,000 angiosperm species. Before flowering plants emerged, the seed-bearing plant world was dominated by gymnosperms, which have cone-like structures instead of flowers and include pine trees, sago palms and ginkgos. Gymnosperms first appeared in the fossil record about 360 million years ago.

The new study provides insight into how the first flowering plants evolved from pre-existing genetic programs found in gymnosperms and then developed into the diversity of flowering plants we see today.

The study compares the genetic structure of two vastly different flowering plants to see whether differences exist in the set of circuits that create each species' flower. Researchers examined the genetic circuitry of Arabidopsis thaliana, a small flowering plant commonly used as a model organism in plant genetics research, and the avocado tree Persea americana, which belongs to an older lineage of so-called basal angiosperms.

"What we found is that the flower of Persea is a genetic fossil, still carrying genetic instructions that would have allowed for the transformation of cones into flowers," Chanderbali said.

Advanced angiosperms have four organ types: female organs (carpels), male organs (stamens), petals (typically colorful) and sepals (typically green). Basal angiosperms have three: carpels, stamens and tepals, which are typically petal-like structures. The researchers expected each type of organ found in Persea's flowers would have a unique set of genetic instructions. Instead they found significant overlap among the three organ types.

"Although the organs are developing to ultimately become different things, from a genetic developmental perspective, they share much more than you would expect," Chanderbali said. "As you go back in time, the borders fade to a blur."

"With these facts established, we can now think about the vast space open to natural selection to establish ever more rigid borders," said Virginia Walbot, a biology professor at Stanford University who is familiar with the research. The selection process arrived at a "narrow solution in terms of four discrete organs but with fantastic diversity of organ numbers, shapes and colors that provide the defining phenotypes of each flowering plant species."

Researchers don't know exactly which gymnosperms gave rise to flowering plants, but previous research suggests some genetic program in the gymnosperms was modified to make the first flower, Soltis said. A pine tree produces pine cones that are either male or female, unlike flowers, which contain both male and female parts. But a male pine cone has almost everything that a flower has in terms of its genetic wiring.

Douglas Soltis, chairman of the UF botany department, emphasized that the study highlights the importance of studying primitive flowering plants such as the avocado to gain insight into the early history of the flower. Survivors of ancient lineages represent a crucial link to the first flowers and provide insight that cannot be obtained by studying highly derived models such as Arabidopsis, he said.

Andre Chanderbali | EurekAlert!
Further information:

More articles from Life Sciences:

nachricht First time-lapse footage of cell activity during limb regeneration
25.10.2016 | eLife

nachricht Phenotype at the push of a button
25.10.2016 | Institut für Pflanzenbiochemie

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

First results of NSTX-U research operations

26.10.2016 | Physics and Astronomy

UCI and NASA document accelerated glacier melting in West Antarctica

26.10.2016 | Earth Sciences

Ice shelf vibrations cause unusual waves in Antarctic atmosphere

25.10.2016 | Earth Sciences

More VideoLinks >>>