Scientists now tracking the DNA of flowers
I have to confess I don’t see my family as often as I should, so the holidays are the one time of year when we make the effort to get together and catch up. Not surprisingly, this is also the time we get into some interesting conversations between the family scientists and the churchgoers.
This year I inadvertently sparked a contentious topic when I brought out my DNA results from one of the online ancestry searches. Not surprisingly, I am a mix of a lot of different parts of the world and not the 100-per-cent German my grandmother thinks I am. As you can imagine, we got into evolution versus creationism over a holiday turkey, which made for a tense Christmas dinner.
The reason I wanted to share this with you is because of how it relates to plants and the flowers in our gardens and how plants have changed over time. Specifically, what did the very first bloom look like?
The challenge with flowers is that they are too delicate to leave fossil evidence and, unlike the bones of dinosaurs, we have no record of what the early flowers looked like.
Currently there are more than 360,000 species of modern plants that use flowers as a form of reproduction by attracting pollinators, with new variations occurring all the time.
Tracking DNA and developing an understanding of DNA sequencing is now helping us understand what the first flowers actually looked like, without ever seeing the actual blooms. Scientists and researchers at the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew have been using a DNA sequencer to sequence plant genomes, which is the complete set of genes or genetic material present in a cell.
When it comes to flowers, breaking down the DNA has always been a long process, as researchers had to bring each individual plant back to the lab to test it to see if they were genetically different than what had already been tested. This has all changed thanks to a company called Oxford Nanopore Technologies, which has developed a portable DNA sequencer that allows researchers to actually genetically study plants in the field.
With this new technology, an international team of botanists joined forces to rebuild the features of the first flower by using the characteristics of more than 800 modern plants to better understand the evolution of the flower. Surprisingly, the first bloom probably wasn’t an apple blossom. Instead, it was more like a magnolia with concentric circles of petals.
As part of the DNA testing that I participated in, a complete database is being set up linking relatives and individuals who share common genetic markers. Botanists using this portable genome sequencing technology are doing the same. Soon we will have a database that will allow any gardener a resource for better plant health monitoring around the world.
Original post from The Chronicle Herald
Publication date: Dec-29-2017