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!
Researchers identify potentially druggable mutant p53 proteins that promote cancer growth
09.12.2016 | Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory
Plant-based substance boosts eyelash growth
09.12.2016 | Fraunhofer-Institut für Angewandte Polymerforschung IAP
Physicists of the University of Würzburg have made an astonishing discovery in a specific type of topological insulators. The effect is due to the structure of the materials used. The researchers have now published their work in the journal Science.
Topological insulators are currently the hot topic in physics according to the newspaper Neue Zürcher Zeitung. Only a few weeks ago, their importance was...
In recent years, lasers with ultrashort pulses (USP) down to the femtosecond range have become established on an industrial scale. They could advance some applications with the much-lauded “cold ablation” – if that meant they would then achieve more throughput. A new generation of process engineering that will address this issue in particular will be discussed at the “4th UKP Workshop – Ultrafast Laser Technology” in April 2017.
Even back in the 1990s, scientists were comparing materials processing with nanosecond, picosecond and femtosesecond pulses. The result was surprising:...
Have you ever wondered how you see the world? Vision is about photons of light, which are packets of energy, interacting with the atoms or molecules in what...
A multi-institutional research collaboration has created a novel approach for fabricating three-dimensional micro-optics through the shape-defined formation of porous silicon (PSi), with broad impacts in integrated optoelectronics, imaging, and photovoltaics.
Working with colleagues at Stanford and The Dow Chemical Company, researchers at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign fabricated 3-D birefringent...
In experiments with magnetic atoms conducted at extremely low temperatures, scientists have demonstrated a unique phase of matter: The atoms form a new type of quantum liquid or quantum droplet state. These so called quantum droplets may preserve their form in absence of external confinement because of quantum effects. The joint team of experimental physicists from Innsbruck and theoretical physicists from Hannover report on their findings in the journal Physical Review X.
“Our Quantum droplets are in the gas phase but they still drop like a rock,” explains experimental physicist Francesca Ferlaino when talking about the...
16.11.2016 | Event News
01.11.2016 | Event News
14.10.2016 | Event News
09.12.2016 | Life Sciences
09.12.2016 | Ecology, The Environment and Conservation
09.12.2016 | Health and Medicine