The DNA of Ancient Plants May Offer the Chance to Improve Future Crops

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A half billion years ago, the continents were linked into one massive piece of land, known as Pangaea. During that time, hornworts started to rise towards the surface, becoming the first group of plants that reached dry land.

With the help of advanced tools, a team of researchers has managed to analyze three hornwort genomes, extracting valuable data related to the first plants. The ambitious project started almost a decade ago when the team decided to attempt to hornwort in laboratory conditions.

Three years were spent on the cultivation of the plants and the creation of a method that facilitated the existence of a sexual cycle despite the sterile environment. Another three years were needed to divide, explore, and organize specific genetic regions.

Ancient Plants’ DNA Might Improve Crops Nowadays

Among the many goals of the study was the aim to observe which specific genes are responsible for the way in which hornworts can accumulate carbon dioxide in chloroplasts, boosting the rate at which they can generate sugar. This ability is limited to hornworts in the case of land plants, but it has been spotted among select species of algae.

For the purpose of the project, the researchers compared the genetic profiles of hornworts and suitable algae, discovering that a gene which is known under the name of LCIB is among the two while not being present among other land plants.

It is thought that if the same mechanism could be implemented in regular crops, they could use a superior harvest while the same amount of fertilizer is used. At this point, it is also worth highlighting the fact that hornworts enjoy a symbiotic relationship with some cyanobacteria and fungi, which is an excellent boon since the two offer valuable resources in the form of phosphorus and nitrogen. While the potential is impressive further research will take place in the future. The study was published in a scientific journal.

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