Secrets in a seed: Clues into the evolution of the first flowers

New Plant LifeApproximately 120-130 million years ago, one of the most significant events in the history of the Earth occurred: the first flowering plants, or angiosperms, arose. In the late 1800s, Darwin referred to their development as an “abominable mystery.” To this day, scientists are still challenged by this “mystery” of how angiosperms originated, rapidly diversified, and rose to dominance. (See the January 2009 issue of the American Journal of Botany at www.amjbot.org/content/vol96/issue1.)

Studies of key features of angiosperm evolution, such as the evolution of the flower and development of the endosperm, have contributed to our current understanding of relationships among the early families of flowering plants. Examining the development of seeds and embryos among early angiosperms may help to improve our understanding of how flowering plants evolved from the nonflowering gymnosperms.

A recent study by Dr. Paula Rudall and colleagues published in the September issue of the AJB (www.amjbot.org/cgi/content/full/96/9/1581) explores a piece of this mystery: the microscopic anatomy of seed development in Trithuria, a genus in the plant family Hydatellaceae, thought to be one of the earliest families of angiosperms—the so-called “basal angiosperms.”

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