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The natural world. Looking pretty for 3.5b years.

The First Flower

The First Flower

Author: Hugh Bollinger/Tuesday, August 1, 2017/Categories: natural history, wildlife conservation, sustainability, environment, plants


    Evolutionary Form Development from First Modern Flower (credit: Hervé Sauquet & Jürg Schönenberger)

The biodiversity of the Earth's flowering plants is mind boggling and new species are still being discovered every year. Anyone who has ever looked at a lily, rose, orchid, daisy, or cactus in flower must be impressed by this variety of forms. But could all this diversity have arisen from a common ancestorial flower? New research indicates this may have been the case which began ~140 million years ago.

Publishing in Nature Communications, researchers at the Universities of Paris and Vienna applied molecular biology applied to evolutionary relationships of plants (phylogenetics) combined with a series of palaeo-botanical discoveries and reconstructed the 'first flower'. In their report they say: "a key question in plant biology remains the origin of angiosperms (flowering plants) and of their most defining structure, the flower."

To address this question they used three approaches:

1) investigate museum fossils and attempt to identify the closest extinct flowering plant relatives; 2) review the body of developmental genetics of the reproductive structures of living flowers and cone-bearing plants (gymnosperms); and 3).utilize a massive new data set and analytical methods to infer the structure of ancestral flowers by using the distribution of traits among modern flowers, estimates of their relationships, and evolutionary models of their forms (morphology).

The combined methods allowed the investigators to gather clues on the origin and diversification of flower forms and estimates of what they were like at key points in time. Using graphic tools, including a relationship dendrogram, the data  and its analzysis was visualized in beautiful evolutionary diagrams originating from the first predicted flower form, a waterlily-like bloom.



      Circular Dendrograph of Flowering Plants' Evolution from First Ancestor, pale blue (credit:      )

The French investigators conclude by saying:

"our work provides a novel picture of the flower of the most recent ancestor for all living angiosperms and the earliest steps in flower form diversification. It is a major development in understanding the origin of floral diversity and evolution in angiosperms, but more work will be required to reconstruct the evolutionary steps that gave rise to the flower itself."

For this and many other reasons, worldwide conservation of plants worldwide should take on new meaning since the picture isn't complete. This first reconstructed model of an ancient flower has both male and female structures together in the same flower as do most modern plants. However, a rare tree recently discovered on New Caledonia, the Amborella, has unusual male and female characteristics on the same plant indicating an earlier stage in flowering plant evolution.

Who knows where the next plant breakthrough may be hidden away on some other remote mountain that helps to fill in more of the puzzle? and not to mention that it might be quite beautiful as well.



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