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Gardener's delight offers glimpse into the evolution of flowering plants

The Pink Double Dandy peony, the Double Peppermint petunia, the Doubled Strawberry Vanilla lily and nearly all roses are varieties cultivated for their double flowers.

The blossoms of these and other such plants are lush with extra petals in place of the parts of the flower needed for sexual reproduction and seed production, meaning double flowers though beautiful are mutants and usually sterile.

The genetic interruption that causes that mutation helped scientists in the 1990s pinpoint the genes responsible for normal development of sexual organs stamens and carpels in the plant Arabidopsis thaliana, long used as a plant model by biologists.

Now for the first time, scientists have proved the same class of genes is at work in a representative of a more ancient plant lineage, offering a glimpse further back into the evolutionary development of flowers.

"It's pretty amazing that Arabidopsis and Thalictrum, the plant we studied, have genes that do the exact same kind of things in spite of the millions of years of evolution that separates the two species," said Vernica Di Stilio, University of Washington associate professor of biology. She is the corresponding author of a paper published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

The function of these organ-identity genes appears to be highly conserved according to the new research, meaning the gene is essential and its function has been maintained despite the formation of new species.

Identifying the genetic and biochemical basis of double flowering in Thalictrum suggests the class of genes that likely underlie other widespread double-flower varieties, according to Kelsey Galimba, a UW doctoral student in the Di Stilio lab and lead author of the paper.

"Growers might be interested that we've figured out what's going on genetically. In terms of applications, you could potentially trigger this if you were interested in creatin

Contact: Sandra Hines
University of Washington

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Gardener's delight offers glimpse into the evolution of flowering plants
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