(ORDO NEWS) — A groundbreaking study published in the journal Nature Plants has shed new light on the evolution of plant biology, upending our understanding of how plants have evolved over the last billion years. Contrary to long-held beliefs, the study found that plants did not undergo a sudden burst of change early in their evolutionary history. Instead, they gradually evolved their anatomical design, changing it periodically to adapt to environmental challenges.
The aim of the study, led by Professor Philip Donoghue, a paleobiologist at the University of Bristol, was to find out whether plant evolution occurred quickly or in a slower, more continuous process.
The team analyzed 248 groups of plants, ranging from single-celled pond debris and seaweeds to terrestrial plants such as mosses, ferns, pines, conifers and flowering plants. Also studied were 160 extinct groups known only from fossils.
By decomposing the design of plants into their component parts and comparing the similarities and differences between groups, scientists received more than 130 thousand observations. They discovered that changes in the anatomical structure of plants are associated with events in which the entire genetic structure of cells is duplicated.
These events, caused by errors in the genome copying process, led to the appearance of duplicate genes that could mutate and acquire new functions.
The study also showed that the main impulses for the anatomical evolution of plants were related to the need to live and reproduce in increasingly arid environments. When plants moved from sea to land, they had to adapt to survive in the new conditions. This led to the emergence of innovative elements such as spores, seeds, roots, leaves, pollen and flowers.
Dr. James Clark, Research Fellow in the Department of Biological Sciences at the University of Bristol and one of the lead authors of the study, explained the significance of the findings: history of plant evolution as a result of errors in the process of copying the genome, when duplicate copies of genes were created that were free to mutate and acquire new functions.
The study not only challenges previous ideas about plant evolution, but also provides valuable insights into the mechanisms underlying the plant diversity we see today. By understanding the gradual nature of plant evolution and the role of environmental challenges in driving innovation, scientists will be able to better predict how plants may respond to future environmental changes.
Citing the study’s findings, Professor Donoghue emphasized the importance of these findings: “Surprisingly, the findings showed that plant evolution was somewhat mixed, with long periods of gradual change interrupted by short bursts of large-scale innovation overcoming the challenges of life on land.”
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