Plants are evolutionary champions, dominating Earth’s ecosystems for more than a billion years and making the planet habitable for countless other life forms, including us. Now, scientists have completed a nine-year genetic quest to shine a light on the long, complex history of land plants and green algae, revealing the plot twists and furious pace of the rise of this supergroup of organisms.
The project, known as the One Thousand Plant Transcriptomes Initiative (1KP), brought together nearly 200 plant biologists to sequence and analyze genes from more than 1,100 plant species spanning the green tree of life. To get a bird’s-eye view of plant evolution, the 1KP team sequenced transcriptomes – the set of genes that are actively expressed – to illuminate the genetic underpinnings of green algae, mosses, ferns, conifers, flowering plants and all other lineages of green plants.
“This gives a much broader perspective than what you could get by just looking at crops, which are all concentrated in one little part of the evolutionary tree,” said study co-author Pamela Soltis, University of Florida distinguished professor and Florida Museum of Natural History curator. “By having this bigger picture, you can understand how changes occurred in the genome, which then allows you to investigate changes in physical characteristics, chemistry or any other feature you’re interested in.”Learn more about Scientists Sequence 1,100 Plants, Illuminating 1 Billion Years of Evolution.