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University of Florida study provides insight into evolution of first flowers
Date:5/18/2009

GAINESVILLE, Fla. --- Charles Darwin described the sudden origin of flowering plants about 130 million years ago as an abominable mystery, one that scientists have yet to solve.

But a new University of Florida study, set to appear next week in the online edition of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, is helping shed light on the mystery with information about what the first flowers looked like and how they evolved from nonflowering plants.

"There was nothing like them before and nothing like them since," said Andre Chanderbali, lead author of the study and a postdoctoral associate at UF's Florida Museum of Natural History. "The origin of the flower is the key to the origin of the angiosperms (flowering plants)."

The goal of this research is to understand the original regulatory program, or set of genetic switches, that produced the first flower in the common ancestor of all living flowering plants, said Pam Soltis, study co-author and curator of molecular systematics and evolutionary genetics at the Florida Museum. Better understanding of these genetic switches could one day help scientists in other disciplines such as medicine or agriculture, including help in growing plants used to fight disease or developing more drought-resistant crops.

The flower is one of the key innovations of evolution, responsible for a massive burst of evolution that has resulted in perhaps as many as 400,000 angiosperm species. Before flowering plants emerged, the seed-bearing plant world was dominated by gymnosperms, which have cone-like structures instead of flowers and include pine trees, sago palms and ginkgos. Gymnosperms first appeared in the fossil record about 360 million years ago.

The new study provides insight into how the first flowering plants evolved from pre-existing genetic programs found in gymnosperms and then developed into the diversity of flowering plants we see today.

The study comp
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Contact: Andre Chanderbali
achander@botany.ufl.edu
352-273-1976
University of Florida
Source:Eurekalert

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