UF research on newly formed plants could lead to improved crop fertility

January 7th, 2012

GAINESVILLE, Fla. – A new University of Florida study shows genomes of a recently formed plant species to be highly unstable, a phenomenon that may have far-reaching evolutionary consequences.

Published online this week in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, the study is the first to document chromosomal variation in natural populations of a recently formed plant species following whole genome doubling, or polyploidy. Because many agricultural crops are young polyploids, the data may be used to develop plants with higher fertility and yields. Polyploid crops include wheat, corn, coffee, apples, broccoli and some rice species.

“It could be occurring in other polyploids, but this sort of methodology just hasn’t been applied to many plant species,” said study co-author Pam Soltis, distinguished professor and curator of molecular systematics and evolutionary genetics at the Florida Museum of Natural History on the UF campus. “So it may be that lots of polyploids – including our crops – may not be perfect additive combinations of the two parents, but instead have more chromosomes from one parent or the other.” (more…)

UF researchers help pinpoint key events in ancient plant evolution

April 10th, 2011

GAINESVILLE, Fla. — Researchers from the University of Florida and six other institutions have unlocked some of the key foundations for the evolution of seed and flowering plants.

The study, to be published online Sunday in Nature, is the first to identify the occurrence of ancient genome duplication events and show the genomes of seed and flowering plants duplicated before each group of plants diversified. It introduces new factors for further molecular research on the organisms humans depend on for food, clothing and shelter. (more…)

UF researchers help pinpoint key events in ancient plant evolution

April 10th, 2011

GAINESVILLE, Fla. — Researchers from the University of Florida and six other institutions have unlocked some of the key foundations for the evolution of seed and flowering plants.

The study, to be published online Sunday in Nature, is the first to identify the occurrence of ancient genome duplication events and show the genomes of seed and flowering plants duplicated before each group of plants diversified. It introduces new factors for further molecular research on the organisms humans depend on for food, clothing and shelter.

Analyses of several hundred genes pinpointed ancient genome duplication events at about 319 million years ago for seed plants and 192 million years ago for flowering plants, making their origins older than previously estimated. Genome duplications result in organisms having twice as much DNA and an extra copy of every gene, allowing for greater genetic variation. For flowering plants, this event is now linked to their rise to success and the more than 300,000 flowering plant species alive today. (more…)

UF study names new genus of 125-million-year-old eudicot from China

March 30th, 2011

GAINESVILLE, Fla. – A University of Florida researcher has helped describe the earliest known fossil remains of a flowering plant from China that has a direct evolutionary relationship with most plants humans depend on today.

The study, scheduled to appear as the cover story in the March 31 issue of the journal Nature, describes the basal eudicot species, Leefructus mirus, which lived during the early Cretaceous period about 125 million years ago. It is most closely related to living plants in the buttercup family. Eudicots, known as “typical dicots,” are one of the largest groups of flowering plants. (more…)

UF researcher: Flowering plant study ‘catches evolution in the act’

March 17th, 2011

GAINESVILLE, Fla. – A new University of Florida study shows when two flowering plants are crossed to produce a new hybrid, the new species’ genes are reset, allowing for greater genetic variation.

Researchers say the study, to be published March 17 in Current Biology, could lead to a better understanding of how to best grow more stable and higher yielding agricultural crops.

“We caught evolution in the act,” said Doug Soltis, a distinguished professor in UF’s biology department and study co-author. “New and diverse patterns of gene expression may allow the new species to rapidly adapt in new environments.” (more…)

UF study provides new insight into origin, evolution of flowering plants

December 13th, 2010

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GAINESVILLE, Fla. — Flowering plants have evolved at explosive rates throughout history, yet scientists since Charles Darwin have been faced with the great biological mystery of how they originated.

A new University of Florida study to be published online this week in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences presents the deepest insight to the genes that made up the first flower, the common ancestor of all flowering plants, and how those genes have changed over time. (more…)

UF to help sequence genome of flowering plants’ ancient living relative

October 13th, 2010

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GAINESVILLE, Fla. — University of Florida researchers are part of a nationwide team preparing to open a door into better understanding plant evolution by sequencing the genome of the single living sister species to all other flowering plants.

The information on Amborella trichopoda, a large shrub found only on the South Pacific island of New Caledonia, will help researchers understand how flowering plants diversified over time and provide insight into the key processes that have driven the formation of the world’s ecosystems. (more…)

DNA sequencing unlocks relationships among flowering plants

February 23rd, 2010

GAINESVILLE, Fla. — The origins of flowering plants from peas to oak trees are now in clearer focus thanks to the efforts of Florida Museum of Natural History researchers.

A study appearing online this week in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences unravels 100 million years of evolution through an extensive analysis of plant genomes. It targets one of the major moments in plant evolution, when the ancestors of most of the world’s flowering plants split into two major groups.

Together the two groups make up nearly 70 percent of all flowering plants and are part of a larger clade known as Pentapetalae, which means five petals. Understanding how these plants are related is a large undertaking that could help ecologists better understand which species are more vulnerable to environmental factors such as climate change. (more…)

Fla. Museum scientist wins $865,000 NSF CAREER Award for genetic plant research

January 7th, 2010

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GAINESVILLE, Fla. — Nico Cellinese, assistant curator of the Florida Museum of Natural History herbarium and informatics, has received a prestigious $865,000 CAREER Award from the National Science Foundation.

The grant will support Cellinese’s research on genetic diversity in the flowering plant group Campanulaceae, also known as the bellflower family, in the Eastern Mediterranean Basin, especially on islands in the Aegean Sea. The five-year award totals $865,251 and begins March 1, 2010.

The plant sample she will study includes about 200 species confined to extremely localized places, said Cellinese, who is also a University of Florida assistant professor in biology. These endemic species raise interesting questions about their evolutionary origins and why they are found only on islands in the Aegean archipelago. (more…)

Plant fossils give first real picture of earliest Neotropical rainforests

October 15th, 2009

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GAINESVILLE, Fla. — A team of researchers including a University of Florida paleontologist has used a rich cache of plant fossils discovered in Colombia to provide the first reliable evidence of how Neotropical rainforests looked 58 million years ago.

Researchers from the Smithsonian Institution and UF, among others, found that many of the dominant plant families existing in today’s Neotropical rainforests — including legumes, palms, avocado and banana — have maintained their ecological dominance despite major changes in South America’s climate and geological structure.

The study, which appears this week in the online edition of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, examined more than 2,000 megafossil specimens, some nearly 10 feet long, from the Cerrej√≥n Formation in northern Colombia. The fossils are from the Paleocene epoch, which occurred in the 5- to 7-million-year period following the massive extinction event responsible for the demise of the dinosaurs. (more…)

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