Researchers are using a Pacific island plant called Amborella trichopoda to help solve "Darwin's abominable mystery"—what was it, exactly, that caused the explosion of flowering plants in the fossil record around 145 million years ago? Amborella's genome, it turns out, holds clues to explaining how flowers managed their incredible diversification and sudden dominance. The Scientist explains why Amborella is a key candidate for doing this:
A. trichopoda is the sister species of all other flowering plants, or angiosperms. It is the last survivor of a lineage that branched off during the dynasty’s earliest days, before the rest of the 350,000 or so angiosperm species diversified.
After sequencing the plant's genome, researchers analyzed it and found that Amborella's ancestor had undergone a polyploidy event—a doubling of its genetic material. Around 200 million years ago, this founding flower essentially made a photocopy of its genes. All of that extra genetic material allowed plants to begin mutating and developing new characteristics, such as flowers.
Of the 300,000 flowering plants known today, Amborella is the only one that directly traces back to that common ancestor of them all, the researchers write in a statement. "In the same way that the genome sequence of the platypus — a survivor of an ancient lineage — can help us study the evolution of all mammals, the genome sequence of Amborella can help us learn about the evolution of all flowers," they say.
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