Oldest Flower's DNA Decoded to Answer Darwin's 'Abominable Mystery'

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By Johnlee Varghese | December 21, 2013 12:58 AM EST

A major breakthrough that would explain the evolution of flowers and hold clues to improving all major food crop species, has been achieved in a study, in which researchers have successfully sequenced the genome of the flowering plant Amborella for the first time.

The study primarily reveals why flowers may have proliferated millions of years ago. The DNA sequencing of the genome of the Amborella plant also answers Darwin's 'abominable mystery.'

In a letter to his friend Joseph Hooker, Charles Darwin in 1879 famously referred to the origin of flowering plants - the angiosperms - as an 'abominable mystery.'  Since then 'abominable mystery' has come to symbolize all aspects of the origin and early evolution of flowering plants.

The Darwin's 'abominable mystery' primarily raises the question of why flowers suddenly proliferated on Earth millions of years ago. The Amborella DNA sequencing hence sheds new light on the history of evolution, as in principle, in theory answers the origin of flowering plants.

The scientist chose Amborella (Amborella trichopoda), as it has an ancient evolutionary lineage with a direct ancestory to all flowering plants. It is a small understory tree found only on the main island of New Caledonia in the South Pacific.

The DNA sequencing of Amborella genome was led by scientists at Penn State University, the University at Buffalo, the University of Florida, the University of Georgia, and the University of California-Riverside. "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," said Victor Albert of the University at Buffalo noted in statement on Penn State university website.

The study that appeared in the journal Science on December 20, analyzes the Amborella genome and provides the genetic difference of flowering plants from all other plants.

In addition to its utility in studies of flowering plant evolution, the Amborella genome sequence offers insights into the history and conservation of Amborella populations, co-author Doug Soltis, a distinguished professor from the Florida Museum of Natural History in the University of Florida noted.

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