A multinational science team has identified a vast DNA tree of life for plants utilizing 1.8 billion letters of the genetic code.  

An multinational team of 279 scientists led by the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, released a new study in Nature today (April 24) that gives the most recent understanding of the flowering plant tree of life.  

This extraordinary effort throws new light on the evolutionary history of flowering plants and their climb to ecological dominance on Earth, utilizing 1.8 billion letters of genetic code from more than 9,500 species representing almost 8,000 known flowering plant groups (about 60%).  

The huge plant research milestone, led by Kew and involving 138 organizations worldwide, was built on 15 times more data than any previous analysis of the flowering plant tree of life. More than 800 of the species analyzed for this study had never had their DNA sequenced previously.  

The flowering plant tree of life, like our own family tree, explains how different species are connected to one another. The tree of life is discovered by comparing DNA sequences from many species and identifying changes (mutations) that accumulate over time, similar to a molecular fossil record.  

Using historical herbarium specimens for cutting-edge research.  

More than 3,400 of the 9,506 species sequenced came from 163 herbaria in 48 different countries. Additional material from plant collections around the world (e.g., DNA banks, seeds, living collections) has proven critical in filling crucial information gaps and shed new light on the history of flowering plant evolution. The researchers also profited from publicly available data for over 1,900 species,  

Flowering plants alone account for over 90% of all known plant life on land and can be found almost anywhere on the world, from the steamiest tropics to the craggy outcrops of the Antarctic Peninsula.   

Illuminating Darwin's awful riddle.  

Using 200 fossils, the authors built their tree of life to show how flowering plants evolved across geological time. They discovered that early flowering plants saw an explosion in diversity, producing more than 80% of the major lineages that exist today shortly after their inception.  

Assembling such a large tree of life would have been impossible without Kew's scientists working with numerous collaborators across the world. The study included 279 authors from 138 organizations in 27 countries, covering a wide range of nationalities.   

A true worldwide partnership.  

The flowering plant tree of life holds immense promise for biodiversity studies. This is because, just as we can predict an element's attributes based on its position in the periodic table  

Putting the tree of life to good use  

Hesperelaea palmeri, often known as the Guadalupe Island olive, has become extinct due to feral goats. Medical doctor Edward Palmer obtained a herbarium specimen on Guadalupe Island, off Baja California, Mexico in 1875.

The flowering plant tree of life has some remarkable species.  

The oldest specimen sequenced is Arenaria globiflora, often known as Nepalese sandwort. Nathaniel Wallich collected a herbarium specimen at Kew in 1829 .

Pilostyles aethiopica, a member of the stemsucker family (Apodanthaceae), has been identified as a parasitic plant. Sidonie Bellot of Kew has sequenced plant tissue obtained in Zimbabwe in 2012.  

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