Gene sequences for more than 1,100 plant species have been released by an international consortium of nearly 200 plant scientists, the culmination of a nine-year research project.
The One Thousand Plant Transcriptomes Initiative (1KP) is a global collaboration to examine the diversification of plant species, genes and genomes across the more than 1 billion-year history of green plants dating back to the ancestors of flowering plants and green algae.
“In the tree of life, everything is interrelated,” said Gane Ka-Shu Wong, lead investigator and professor in the University of Alberta’s Faculty of Science and Faculty of Medicine & Dentistry. “And if we want to understand how the tree of life works, we need to examine the relationships between species. That’s where genetic sequencing comes in.”
The findings, published today in Nature, reveal the timing of whole genome duplications and the origins, expansions and contractions of gene families contributing to fundamental genetic innovations enabling the evolution of green algae, mosses, ferns, conifer trees, flowering plants and all other green plant lineages. The history of how and when plants secured the ability to grow tall, and make seeds, flowers and fruits provides a framework for understanding plant diversity around the planet including annual crops and long-lived forest tree species.
“Our inferred relationships among living plant species inform us that over the billion years since an ancestral green algal species split into two separate evolutionary lineages, one including flowering plants, land plants and related algal groups and the other comprising a diverse array of green algae, plant evolution has been punctuated with innovations and periods of rapid diversification” said James Leebens-Mack, professor of plant biology in the University of Georgia Franklin College of Arts and Sciences and co-corresponding author on the study. “In order to link what we know about gene and genome evolution to a growing understanding of gene function in flowering plant, moss and algal organisms, we needed to generate new data to better reflect gene diversity among all green plant lineages.”