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The family tree of flowering plants is ready

The family tree of flowering plants is ready

Flowering plants have inhabited every corner of our planet, from the rainforests rising from the tropics to the icy slopes of Antarctica for most of the year. Their adaptability and diversity have astounded us humans for thousands of years – and of course the scientists among us. the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew It has been reported with great success Of completed workwhere the family tree of flowering plants was established, thanks to revolutionary new methods of DNA testing.

With genetic data from more than 9,500 plants, we can get a more accurate idea of ​​plant evolution than ever before. A total of 279 specialists from 138 institutions in 27 countries worked on this project.

Time travel and communication with 19th century scientists

The fact that we can now extract DNA from specimens found in museums and herbaria that are hundreds of years old has been a huge step forward. Thanks to this, it was possible to correctly classify plants according to their kinship, which we did not have the opportunity to do before. All those who collected these specimens in previous centuries could not have known about the existence of DNA, and therefore did not dare to dream of the future that awaited their plant specimens.

Hesperilaya palmieri

Source: RPGQ

However, thanks to these methods, we are also able to extract information about now extinct plants. We've gotten to know each other Guadalupe Island Live Hesperilaya palmieri It was named after a shrub known to science in 1875, but since then not a single living specimen has been seen: it was exterminated by goats that attacked the island.

Darwin's mystery has also been solved

In a letter dated 1879 to Kew's director and personal friend Joseph Dalton Hooker, Darwin wrote that the rapid evolution of higher plants is a great mystery. Upon examining the fossils, the scientist was shocked to see that flowering plants appeared almost out of nowhere and became dominant very quickly. Darwin did not receive an answer to this question during his lifetime.

Family tree of flowering plants

Source: Nature

Specialists have now been able to include 200 species of fossil plants in family tree research. Thanks to this, it turns out that there are two more dynamic stages in how the diversity of flowering plants reached its current level. One of them occurred about 140 million years ago, shortly after the formation of its first representatives, followed by a slower pace of evolution of about 100 million years. The second phase of increased diversification occurred 40 million years ago, and may have coincided with a decline in global temperatures. If Darwin were alive today, he would certainly be impressed by these results.

Of course, data not only tells about the past, but also gives insight into the future. With the help of understood properties, we can imagine what awaits each plant in the future, or in which plant compounds that can be used as medicine may be hidden. More precisely, we can see what is happening to them as a result of climate change, or specifically which species are more susceptible to disease and which are resistant to pests.

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The value of this monumental work will truly be determined by the scientists of the future, those who will put into practical use all the enormous amount of data that has now been discovered and collected. A family tree of plants for anyone Accessible It will help professionals either answer questions of the past or implement plans for the future.

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