Grandmother of All Plants Was Found in Northern China

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Proterocladus antiquus is the new oldest fossil plant discovered. It is considered the grandmother of all the plants known today, either from land or the sea. The fossil was found on rocks in northern China. Its age is of one billion years, and it is a multicellular plant—a seaweed. Land plants started their earthly journey only 450 million years ago, descending from a group of green seaweeds.

The same group, Proterocladus antiquus, belongs to. “Proterocladus antiquus is a close relative of the ancestor of all green plants alive today,” said Qing Tang, the lead report author of the study on the Chinese fossil.

The grandmother of all plants was found in China

The dimension of Proterocladus antiquus is no bigger than a grain of rice, but it had long and thin branches spreading, and roots that tide it to the seafloor. Although it seems small today, back in the early days of young Earth, it was one of the largest multicellular existing plants.

It covered the sea floors making one of the essential processes needed for us to emerge: photosynthesis. It is one of the first organisms to do that, as a descendant of the bacteria cyanobacteria, the first to do that. Yes, we owe the air we breathe to bacteria, but that’s another story.

From bacteria, through eukaryotes, to humans

Life on Earth has a beautiful, surprising story to tell. It started with simple cells that resembled bacteria that later evolved to eukaryotes. In time, eukaryote came to be composed of four kingdoms: Kingdom Protista, Kingdom Plantae, Kingdom Fungi, and Kingdom Animalia.

For more than a century, it has been assumed that the ancestors of land plants evolved in aquatic environments and then adapted to a life on land. A recent alternative view, supported by genetic evidence, is that they evolved from terrestrial single-celled algae. Maybe Proterocladus antiquus will have something to say in the contradicting theories.

As our second lead editor, Anna C. Mackinno provides guidance on the stories Great Lakes Ledger reporters cover. She has been instrumental in making sure the content on the site is clear and accurate for our readers. If you see a particularly clever title, you can likely thank Anna. Anna received a BA and and MA from Fordham University.