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Global collaboration rebuilds largest tree of life for flowering plants

Recently, the largest and most comprehensive phylogenomic tree for flowering plants (Angiosperms) was published in the journal Nature. This study, titled Phylogenomics and the rise of the angiosperms, is a milestone in our understanding of the evolution of global flowering plants and includes DNA sequences from 60% of known angiosperm genera.

The largest angiosperm phylogeny to date, with 64 orders, 416 families and 58% (7,923) of genera represented. Figure from Zuntini, A.R., Carruthers, T., Maurin, O. et al. Phylogenomics and the rise of the angiosperms. Nature (2024).

This study represents the combined effort of 279 scientists from 27 countries and was led by Alex Zutini and Bill Baker from Kew Gardens in the UK. Significant contributions were made to this paper by Australian researchers and the Genomics for Australian Plants Framework Initiative, who provided phylogenomic data from 774 Australian species.

The broad scale of this study is unprecedented and would have been possible without access to modern and historical specimens held in herbaria across the world. Remarkably, researchers were able to recover sequence data from a sandwort (Arenaria globiflora) specimen collected in Nepal almost two centuries prior and place it within the tree. Long extinct species, such as Guadalupe Island olive (Hesperelaea palmeri), not observed in the wild since 1875, were also able to be placed in the tree. A series of remarkable stories from this paper are summarised on the Royal Botanic Gardens Kew, CSIRO and Genomics for Australian Plants websites.

While the scope of this study is extremely impressive, this collaboration highlights the incredible scientific value of historical collections, many of which were collected decades or centuries prior to the discovery of DNA.

Full Article:

Alexandre R. Zuntini et al.

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