Login

GPC Members Login
If you have any problems or have forgotten your login please contact [email protected]


Flowers originated 50 million years earlier than previously thought

Analysis of fossil specimens of a flower called Nanjinganthus from the Early Jurassic (more than 174 million years ago) suggests that flowers originated 50 million years earlier than previously thought, a study published in eLife reports.

Before now, angiosperms (flowering plants) were thought to have a history of no more than 130 million years - despite molecular clocks indicating they must have appeared earlier - since no convincing fossil-based evidence existed.

The discovery of Nanjinganthus dendrostyla, however, offers fossil evidence that extends the evolutionary timeline and, due to the flower's unexpected characteristics, throws widely accepted theories of plant evolution into question.

"Researchers were not certain where and how flowers came into existence because it seems that many flowers just popped up in the Cretaceous from nowhere," said FU Qiang, a researcher from the Nanjing Institute of Geology and Paleontology of the Chinese Academy of Sciences (NIGPAS). "Studying fossil flowers, especially those from earlier geologic periods, is the only reliable way to get an answer to these questions."

The team studied 264 specimens of 198 individual flowers preserved on 34 rock slabs from the South Xiangshan Formation - an outcrop of rocks in the Nanjing region of China renowned for its fossils from the Early Jurassic epoch.

Due to the abundance of fossil samples used, the researchers could dissect some and then study them with sophisticated microscopy. The high-resolution pictures of the flowers - from different angles and with different magnifications - allowed the team to envision the features of Nanjinganthus dendrostyla.

The key feature of angiosperms is the presence of fully enclosed ovules, which are precursors of seeds before pollination. In the current study, the reconstructed flower was found to have a cup-form receptacle and ovarian roof that together enclose the ovules/seeds. This discovery was crucial, since these features can confirm the flower as of an angiosperm.

Although there have been reports of angiosperms from the Middle-Late Jurassic epochs in northeastern China, the morphological features of Nanjinganthus distinguish it from other specimens and suggest that it is a new angiosperm genus.

The team hopes to determine whether angiosperms are monophyletic - which would mean Nanjinganthus represents a stem group giving rise to all later species - or polyphyletic, meaning Nanjinganthus represents an evolutionary dead end and has little to do with many later species.

"The origin of angiosperms has long been an academic headache for many botanists," said WANG Xin of NIGPAS. "Our discovery has moved the botany field forward and will allow a better understanding of angiosperms."

Read the paper: eLife

Article source: Eurekalert

Image credit: NIGPAS

News

Scientists engineer shortcut for photosynthetic glitch, boost crop growth 40%

Plants convert sunlight into energy through photosynthesis; however, most crops on the planet are plagued by a photosynthetic glitch, and to deal with it, evolved an energy-expensive process called photorespiration that drastically suppresses their yield potential. Researchers from the University of Illinois and U.S. Department of Agriculture Agricultural Research Service report in the journal Science that crops engineered with a photorespiratory shortcut are 40 percent more productive in real-world agronomic conditions.


Should researchers engineer a spicy tomato?

The chili pepper, from an evolutionary perspective, is the tomato's long-lost spitfire cousin. They split off from a common ancestor 19 million years ago but still share some of the same DNA. While the tomato plant went on to have a fleshy, nutrient-rich fruit yielding bountiful harvests, the more agriculturally difficult chili plant went defensive, developing capsaicinoids, the molecules that give peppers their spiciness, to ward off predators.


European wheat lacks climate resilience

The climate is not only warming, it is also becoming more variable and extreme. Such unpredictable weather can weaken global food security if major crops such as wheat are not sufficiently resilient – and if we are not properly prepared.