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article imageThe first ever flower on Earth has been reconstructed

By Karen Graham     Aug 6, 2017 in Science
Everyone loves flowers, and the human race has propagated that love over centuries, creating vast numbers of color variations. However, until recently, no one knew what the very first flower on Earth looked like.
Researchers from the Université Paris-Sud have re-created what they believe is the original flower from which all flowering plants on Earth came from, using the largest dataset of features from living flowers ever assembled.
Their work, entitled "The ancestral flower of angiosperms and its early diversification," was published in the online journal, Nature Communications on August 1, 2017.
Evolution and diversification of the first flower
Plants have existed on Earth for at least 470 million years, and as we know from fossil remains, they didn't always look like the familiar species we see today. Flowers are the reproductive structures of angiosperms (flowering plants), representing nearly 90 percent of all the living plants on Earth.
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However, on a geological time scale, their evolutionary innovation has been relatively recent, with the most common ancestor of angiosperms existing between 140 to 250 million years ago. In contrast, the most common ancestor of all extant plants, including angiosperms and gymnosperms, existed 310 to 350 million years ago.
Botanists have been intrigued for years about the origin of angiosperms and what the key defining structure, the flower, looked like. More importantly, scientists wanted to know what evolutionary innovations occurred, and when, that led the flower to diversify into the over 300,000 species of flowers we enjoy today.
"All flowering plants have evolved and changed since that ancestor," lead author Dr. Hervé Sauquet told MailOnline. "The problem here is that the fossil record of angiosperms [flowering plants] is very limited before around 130 million years ago." Dr. Sauquet said.
All living flowers ultimately derive from a single ancestor (pictured in the centre) that lived 140 ...
All living flowers ultimately derive from a single ancestor (pictured in the centre) that lived 140 million years ago. To find out what this flower may looked like, the study used the evolutionary tree (here simplified) that connects all living species of flowering plants
(Hervé Sauquet & Jürg Schönenberger ( CC-4.0))
Fossil records and genetic studies help in finding the answer
To create their reconstruction of the first flower, the scientists used three approaches. First, they examined 136 fossil records, looking for the closest extinct relatives of angiosperms. Then they looked for answers in the ever-growing body of evolutionary developmental genetic studies on the reproductive structures of living angiosperms and gymnosperms.
The research team's third approach involved using a massive new data set and state-of-the-art analytical methods. Here, the analysis looked at the structure of ancestral flowers using the distribution of floral traits among extant angiosperms, estimates of their phylogeny, and models of morphological evolution.
(Hervé Sauquet & Jürg Schönenberger ( CC-4.0))
The data mining allowed the scientists to uncover clues on the origin and eventual diversification of the flower at key points in its evolution. The research paper notes that while our understanding of ancestral floral traits has improved on the modern phylogenetic framework of angiosperms, there is still much to be learned.
The researchers believe the original flower was bisexual and had an undifferentiated perianth of more than ten tepals, an androecium of more than ten stamens, and a gynoecium of more than five carpels. "It was a highly imperfect flower; I find it rather attractive," Dr Sauquet said.
More about Angiosperm, first flower, Evolution, data analytics, Genetics
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