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DNA sequencing unlocks relationships among flowering plants
Date:2/23/2010

GAINESVILLE, Fla. The origins of flowering plants from peas to oak trees are now in clearer focus thanks to the efforts of University of Florida 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.

Shortly after the two groups split apart, they simultaneously embarked upon a rapid burst of new species that lasted 5 million years. This study shows how those species are related and sheds further light on the emergence of flowering plants, an evolutionary phenomenon described by Charles Darwin as an abominable mystery.

"This paper and others show flowering plants as layer after layer of bursts of evolution," said Doug Soltis, study co-author and UF distinguished professor of biology. "Now it's falling together into two big groups."

Pentapetalae has enormous diversity and contains nearly all flowering plants. Its two major groups, superrosids and superasterids, split apart between 111 million and 98 million years ago and now account for more than 200,000 species. The superrosids include such familiar plants as hibiscus, oaks, cotton and roses. The superasterids include mint, azaleas, dogwoods and sunflowers.

Earlier studies were limited by technology and involved only four or five genes. Those studies hinted at the results found in the new study but lacked statistical supp
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Contact: Pam Soltis
psoltis@flmnh.ufl.edu
352-273-1964
University of Florida
Source:Eurekalert

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