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. Tree Of Life For Flowering Plants Reveals Relationships Among Major Groups

Phylogenetic relationships among the major lineages of flowering plants based on plastid genome sequences. Pictured counter-clockwise from the root at the base of the circle tree are: Amborella trichopoda, Nymphaea odorata, Illicium floridanum, Chloranthus angustifolius, Piper longum, Liriodendron tulipifera, Ceratophyllum demersum, Ranunculus ficaria, Pelargonium exstipulatum, Helianthus annuus, Yucca filamentosa, Triticum aestivum, and Acorus americanus. New Caledonia, home to Amborella trichopoda, is shown in the background. Credit: Gwen Gage
by Staff Writers
Austin TX (SPX) Nov 27, 2007
The evolutionary Tree of Life for flowering plants has been revealed using the largest collection of genomic data of these plants to date, report scientists from The University of Texas at Austin and University of Florida. The scientists, publishing two papers in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences this week online, found that the two largest groups of flowering plants, monocots (grasses and their relatives) and eudicots (including sunflowers and tomatoes), are more closely related to each other than to any of the other major lineages.

The analyses also confirmed that a unique species of plant called Amborella, found only on the Pacific island of New Caledonia, represents the earliest diverging lineage of flowering plants.

Robert Jansen, professor of integrative biology at The University of Texas at Austin, said the work sets the stage for all future comparative studies of flowering plants.

"If you are interested in understanding the evolution of flowering plants, you can't do that unless you understand their relationships," said Jansen.

The University of Florida team, led by Doug and Pam Soltis, also showed that the major diversification of flowering plants, so stunning that the researchers are calling it the "Big Bang," took place in the comparatively short period of less than five million years. This resulted in all five major lineages of flowering plants present today.

"Flowering plants today comprise around 400,000 species," said Pam Soltis, curator at the university's Florida Museum of Natural History. "To think that the burst that gave rise to almost all of these plants occurred in less than five million years is pretty amazing-especially when you consider that flowering plants as a group have been around for at least 130 million years."

The details of the flowering plants' rapid diversification have remained a mystery since Charles Darwin first suggested their evolutionary history is an "abominable mystery."

"One of the reasons why it has been hard to understand evolutionary relationships among the major groups of flowering plants is because they diversified over such a short time frame," said Jansen.

But by analyzing DNA sequences from completely sequenced chloroplast genomes, the scientists brought some clarity to the evolutionary picture.

Jansen and his colleagues at The University of Texas at Austin analyzed DNA sequences of 81 genes from the chloroplast genome of 64 species of plants, while the Florida researchers analyzed 61 genes from 45 species. The two groups also performed a combined analysis, which produced evolutionary trees that included all of the major groups of flowering plants.

As for the diversification's cause, it remains mysterious, Pam and Doug Soltis said.

It's possible it was spurred by some major climatic event. It's also possible that a new evolutionary trait -a more efficient water-conducting cell that transfers water up plant stems-proved so effective that it spurred massive plant growth. This cell type is not present in the first three flowering plant lineages, said Doug Soltis, professor of botany at Florida.

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Liquid Crystal Phases Of Tiny DNA Molecules Point Up New Scenario For First Life On Earth
Boulder CO (SPX) Nov 26, 2007
A team led by the University of Colorado at Boulder and the University of Milan has discovered some unexpected forms of liquid crystals of ultrashort DNA molecules immersed in water, providing a new scenario for a key step in the emergence of life on Earth.

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