The origin and early evolution of flowering plants, based at least in part on his frustration with the fossil record of the time, was a particularly puzzling subject for Charles Darwin. His correspondence between 1875 and 1881 reveals that he was deeply bothered by the apparent origins and rate of diversification of flowering plants in the mid-Cretaceous.
A newly sequenced genome of the Amborella trichopoda plant addresses Darwin's mystery and sheds new light on the origin of flowering plants:
A paper by the Amborella Genome Sequencing Project, published Dec. 20 in the journal Science, includes a full description of the analyses performed by the project as well as the implications for future research on flowering plants.
Jim Leebens-Mack, University of Georgia associate professor of plant biology in the Franklin College of Arts and Sciences, co-led a team of scientists at UGA, Penn State University, the University at Buffalo, the University of Florida and the University of California-Riverside to decipher the Amborella genome. The team is uncovering evidence for the evolutionary processes that paved the way for the diversity of the more than 300,000 flowering plant species on Earth today.
The Amborella genome sequence facilitated reconstruction of the ancestral gene order in the ‘core eudicots,' a huge group that comprises about 75 percent of all angiosperms. This group includes tomato, apple and legumes, as well as timber trees such as oak and poplar," said Leebens-Mack.
It's fascinating how mysteries propel science forward, connecting eras and researchers over great periods to advance our knowledge of the universe. And a lagniappe that in this instance, such a significant insight turns on the life of a delicate little flower. Great work.
Image: The small flowers of Amborella trichopoda, an understory tree species native to New Caledonia.