SSome kinds of plants evolve so quickly into new species that they surprised scientists compiling a genetic family tree showing how long each species on Earth has existed. Researchers at Yale working on the Tree of Life Project finally figured out why these plant species evolve so quickly, and their research has some interesting implications. Such as hyper-evolved sentient plants taking over the world (or maybe just the UK).Tree of Life is an effort to construct a huge genetic family tree connecting all the life forms on Earth. Determining how long a species has been a species by comparing its molecular evolution to similar life forms is an important part of figuring out all those relationships. While studying this, the Yale team figured out that plants with very short generations (that is, with the shortest "seed to stem" time) had very high rates of molecular evolution. Large, woody plants that reproduced at a more stately pace were not as genetically varied from one and other. To anyone who understands natural selection, this doesn't come as a big surprise, but plants act a bit differently from animals in this regard, so patterns of plant evolutionary speed had been elusive. What can we do with this information? For one thing, it will be a major boon to Tree of Life and other genetic cataloging projects. But jump forward 20 years. Imagine computers powerful enough to create a virtual plant based on a fully sequenced genome. Imagine running that plant through tens of thousands of generations (even plants that usually evolve slowly), with the ability to set the parameters within the virtual environment. Instead of genetically modifying a plant by tweaking a base pair here and there, you could create genomes customized to specific conditions, refined by all those iterations of natural selection. Sure, we don't have the ability to take the resulting virtual genome and make it into a living thing, but we might in 20 years. Which is all well and good until the night janitor decides to run some virtual mice through a few million generations in an ultra-competitive environment filled with deadly predators, then manages to process the resulting MegaMice through the sequencing/cloning machine. Image by: ausiegall. Key To Rapid Evolution In Plants: Reproduce Early And Often. [Science Daily]
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