Common building blocks of flowering plants evolved independently on evolutionary tree

May 28th, 2008 - 1:56 pm ICT by admin  

Washington, May 28 (ANI): Purdue University researchers have unearthed evidence that a fundamental building block in the cells of flowering plants, known as syringyl lignin, evolved independently but almost identically on a separate branch of the evolutionary tree in an ancient plant group called lycophytes, which originated at least 420 million years ago.

Clint Chapple and his research colleagues have revealed that flowering plants are believed to have evolved from gymnosperms, the group that includes conifers, ginkgos and related plants.

The researchers have also revealed that this group split from lycophytes hundreds of millions of years before flowering plants appeared.

They say that syringyl lignin, a critical part of the plants’ scaffolding and water-transport systems, apparently emerged separately in the two plant groups, much like flight arose separately in both bats and birds.

A research published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences says that the new findings are based on a study of Selaginella moellendorffii, an ornamental plant sold at nurseries as spike moss.

“We’re excited about this work not only because it may provide another tool with which we can manipulate lignin deposition in plants used for biofuel production, but because it demonstrates that basic research on plants not used in agriculture can provide important fundamental findings that are of practical benefit,” said Chapple.

Jody Banks, another of Purdue researchers who helped kick-start the study with the support of the National Science Foundation (NSF), said: “Because Selaginella is a relict of an ancient vascular plant lineage, its genome sequence will provide the plant community with a resource unlike any other, as it will allow them to discover the genetic underpinnings of the evolutionary innovations that allowed plants to thrive on land, including lignin.”

Chapple revealed that his team undertook the study as part of a broader effort to understand the genetics behind lignin specifically, as the material is an impediment to some biofuel production methods because of its durability and tight integration into plant structures.

“Findings from studies such as this really have implications regarding the potential for designing plants to better make use of cellulose in cell walls,” said Gerald Berkowitz, the program officer overseeing Chapple’s grant.

“Different forms of lignin are present in crop plant cell walls; engineering plants to express specifically syringyl lignin could allow for easier break down of cellulose. Overcoming this obstacle is an important next step for advancing second generation biofuel production,” Berkowitz added. (ANI)

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