Navigation Links
Earth history and evolution

In classical mythology, the cypress tree is associated with death, the underworld and eternity. Indeed, the family to which cypresses belong, is an ancient lineage of conifers, and a new study of their evolution affords a unique insight into a turbulent era in the Earth's history.

During the geological era known as the Mesozoic, the continental crust was concentrated in a single huge landmass, the supercontinent Pangea. Pangea began to break up about 150 million years ago, and the fragments drifted apart, eventually giving rise to the disposition of continents we know today. The progressive break-up of such a large landmass meant that existing groups of plant and animal species were split apart, and the descendant lineages then evolved in isolation from each other.

Dating divergence with the molecular clock

"Fossils show that the cypress family is a very ancient group of plants," says LMU biologist Professor Susanne Renner, who is also Director of the Munich Botanic Garden. "We therefore suspected that it might be possible to follow their evolutionary history back to the period before the break-up of Pangea, as long as the many episodes of climate change and associated extinctions had not obscured things too much." Renner and her research group therefore set out to reconstruct the cypress family tree, based on the comparison of specific gene sequences from 122 species belonging to 32 genera reflecting the family's worldwide distribution. In order to date divergence events, they applied the concept of the molecular clock.

The idea is based on a simple principle. When two lineages diverge from a common ancestor, each accumulates genetic substitutions independent from the other. To a first approximation, the number of unique substitutions provides a measure of the time that has elapsed since a species diverged from its sister species. By comparing the spectra of genetic changes found in different lineages and calibrating the amount of change with fossils, one can therefore reconstruct a group's history.

Evolutionary dead ends

"Over the past 15 years, these molecular methods, in combination with new fossil finds, have revolutionized the study of biogeography, the branch of biology concerned with understanding the distribution patterns of animal and plant species," says Renner. Some groups have turned out to be surprisingly young in evolutionary terms, others much older than people had assumed.

The new study confirms that cypresses represent a very old plant family. Their origins can be traced back to Pangea, and the evolutionary divergence of the northern and southern subfamilies of cypresses actually reflects the break-up of Pangea about 153 million years ago. As fragmentation progressed and ancestral lineages were separated from each other, new lineages were established and followed separate evolutionary trajectories. The Cupressaceae is the first plant family whose evolutionary history gives us such a detailed picture of the break-up of a supercontinent. (PNAS online, 1 May 2012 )


Contact: Dr. Kathrin Bilgeri
Ludwig-Maximilians-Universitt Mnchen

Related biology news :

1. Send your name around the Earth on NASAS Glory mission
2. Earth scientists keep an eye on Texas
3. Barcelona Declaration 2008: Challenges and Pathways to Earth Sustainability
4. Research center to free chemistry from Earths bonds
5. ICSU launches new program to understand the human impact on Earths life-support systems
6. Earthworm activity can alter forests carbon-carrying capabilities
7. Similarities in imaging the human body, Earths crust focus of conference at UH
8. September 2007 Sumatran earthquakes research findings
9. Earths original ancestor was LUCA, not Adam nor Eve
10. To improve forecasting earthquakes, NJIT mathematician studies grains
11. Census of Marine Life and ocean in Google Earth bring ocean information to life
Post Your Comments:
(Date:6/9/2016)... leader in attendance control systems is proud to announce the introduction of fingerprint attendance ... the right employees are actually signing in, and to even control the opening of ... ... ... Photo - ...
(Date:6/2/2016)... , June 2, 2016 The ... has awarded the 44 million US Dollar project, for ... Embossed Vehicle Plates including Personalization, Enrolment, and IT Infrastructure ... leader in the production and implementation of Identity Management Solutions. ... January, however Decatur was selected for ...
(Date:5/24/2016)... facilitates superior patient care by providing unparalleled technology to leaders of the medical imaging ... product recently added to the range of products distributed by Ampronix. Photo ... ... ... News ...
Breaking Biology News(10 mins):
(Date:6/24/2016)... DIEGO , June 24, 2016 ... more sensitively detects cancers susceptible to PARP inhibitors ... circulating tumor cells (CTCs). The new test has ... HRD-targeted therapeutics in multiple cancer types. ... targeting DNA damage response pathways, including PARP, ATM, ...
(Date:6/23/2016)... , June 23, 2016   Boston ... of novel compounds designed to target cancer stemness ... has been granted Orphan Drug Designation from the ... treatment of gastric cancer, including gastroesophageal junction (GEJ) ... inhibitor designed to inhibit cancer stemness pathways by ...
(Date:6/23/2016)... MONICA, Calif. , June 23, 2016  The Prostate Cancer Foundation ... pioneer increasingly precise treatments and faster cures for prostate cancer. Members of the ... institutions across 15 countries. Read More About the Class ... ... ...
(Date:6/23/2016)... ... June 23, 2016 , ... In a new case report published today in ... patient who developed lymphedema after being treated for breast cancer benefitted from an injection ... for dealing with this debilitating, frequent side effect of cancer treatment. , ...
Breaking Biology Technology: