Revolution in Botany as Family Trees of Plants Are Uprooted Will Rewrite Botanical Textbooks
Steve Connor Science Editor, The Independent (London, England)
BOTANISTS have abolished the single plant kingdom of the textbooks and established four separate kingdoms in what is being described as a revolution in biological classification.
A mammoth effort to uncover the biological relationships of the world's flora has also found that there was one common ancestor - a botanical Eve - to all green plants alive today.
In a further twist to botanical taxonomy, scientists have categorised fungi - traditionally grouped within the plant kingdom - as being closer to animals than to plants.
The findings are the result of work by 200 scientists from 12 countries, who for the last five years have reconstructed the evolutionary relationships between the Earth's entire flora using DNA technology.
Called the Green Plant Phylogeny Research Co-ordination Group, the scientists yesterday published what they have called the most complete "tree of life" for any group of living organisms.
One of the study's major findings is that the invasion of the land by plants more than 450 million years ago was led by aquatic plants emerging from freshwater and not, as again stated in biology textbooks, by marine plants emerging from the oceans.
Brent Mishler, a biology professor at the University of California, Berkeley, and a principal co-investigator on the project, said the new insights into how land plants evolved indicate one common ancestor for all the flowers, grasses, trees, ferns, shrubs and mosses of the world.
"Plants came out on to land probably many times, but only one lineage actually made it. This indicates there's an Eve - a common ancestor - in the primordial soup of green plants," Professor Mishler said. …