PROVIDENCE, R.I. [Brown University] Even on the evolutionary time scale of tens of millions of years there is such a thing as being in the right shape at the right time. An anatomical difference in the ability to seize the moment, according to a study led by Brown University biologists, explains why more species in one broad group, or clade, of grasses evolved a more efficient means of photosynthesis than species in another clade did.
Their findings appear this week in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
Biologists refer to the grasses that have evolved this better means of making their food in warm, sunny and dry conditions with the designation "C4." Grasses without that trait are labeled "C3."
What scientists had already known is that while all of the grasses in the BEP and PACMAD clades have the basic metabolic infrastructure to become C4 grasses, the species that have actually done so are entirely in the PACMAD clade. A four-nation group of scientists wondered why that disparity exists.
To find out, Brown postdoctoral researcher and lead author Pascal-Antoine Christin spent two years closely examining the cellular anatomy of 157 living species of BEP and PACMAD grasses. Using genetic data the team also organized the species into their evolutionary tree, which they then used to infer the anatomical traits of ancestral grasses that no longer exist today, a common analytical technique known as ancestral state reconstruction. That allowed them to consider how anatomical differences likely evolved among species over time.
Paradoxically, to understand C4 evolution, the researchers focused on the anatomy of C3 grasses in each clade.
In general what they found was that in the leaves of many PACMAD C3 grasses the veins were closer together, and that the veins themselves were surrounded by larger cells ("bundle sheath" cells) than in BEP C3 grasses. Ultimately PACMAD grasses had a high
|Contact: David Orenstein|