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Oxford University Scientists have discovered 320 million year-old fossil containing oldest plant root cell

The fossils studied during the research are the remains of the soil from the first giant tropical rainforests on Earth

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Scientists in laboratory Image source: Wikimedia commons

Oxford University Herbaria has found in a fossilized root tip, the cells which gave rise to the roots of an ancient plant. The researchers also found, it is the first ever actively growing fossilized root i.e an ancient plant frozen in time. The study is published in the journal Current Biology.

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‘I was examining one of the fossilised soil slides held at the University Herbaria as part of my research into the rooting systems of ancient trees when I noticed a structure that looked like the living root tips we see in plants today. I began to realize that I was looking at a population of 320 million-year-old plant stem cells preserved as they were growing — and that it was the first time anything like this had ever been found. It gives us a unique window into how roots developed hundreds of millions of years ago.’ Oxford Plant Sciences PhD student Alexander (Sandy) Hetherington, who made the discovery during the course of his research, said.

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Plant cells. Image source: Wikimedia

These stem cells are located in the meristems (in plants at the tips of roots and shoots) of multicellular organisms. These stem cells are renewing cells which form these organisms. The 320 million-year-old stem cells discovered are different to all those living today, with a unique pattern of cell division that remained unknown until now. That tells us that some of the mechanisms controlling root formation in plants and trees have now become extinct and may have been more diverse than thought.

These roots were important because they comprised the rooting structures of the plants growing in Earth’s first global tropical wetland forests with tall trees over 50m in height and were in part responsible for one of the most dramatic climate change events in history. The evolution of deep rooting systems increased the rate of chemical weathering of silicate minerals in rocks — a chemical reaction that pulled CO2 out of the atmosphere, leading to the cooling of Earth and thus one of the planet’s great ice ages.

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The fossils studied during this research are the remains of the soil from the first giant tropical rainforests on Earth. The rock in which the soil is preserved formed in the Carboniferous swamps that gave rise to the coal sources spanning what is now Appalachia to central Europe, including the coal fields in Wales, northern England and Scotland.

Sandy has named the stem-cell fossil Radix carbonica (Latin for ‘coal root’).

‘These fossils demonstrate how the roots of these ancient plants grew for the first time. It is startling that something so small could have had such a dramatic effect on Earth’s climate. This discovery also shows the importance of collections such as the Oxford University Herbaria — they are so valuable, and we need to maintain them for future generations.’ says Professor Liam Dolan, Head of the Department of Plant Sciences at Oxford University and senior author of the paper.

-by Vrushali Mahajan, an intern at NewsGram. Twitter @Vrushali Mahajan 

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Newly Discovered Super-Earth Exoplanet May Sustain Primitive Life

Geothermal heating could support 'life zones' under its surface, akin to subsurface lakes found in Antarctica," said Edward Guinan, Astrophysicist at the varsity. 

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NASA
NASA recently announced the discovery of the first known system of seven Earth-sized exoplanets around a single star. VOA

The recently discovered cold super-Earth exoplanet orbiting around the red dwarf Barnard — the second closest star system to Earth — has the potential to harbour primitive life, says a study.

Barnard b (or GJ 699 b) is a super-Earth with a minimum of 3.2 Earth masses. It orbits its red star every 233 days near the snow-line, a distance where water freezes.

Although likely cold (-170 degrees centigrade), it could still have the potential to harbour primitive life if it has a large, hot iron or nickel core and enhanced geothermal activity, said researchers from the Villanova University in the US.

“Geothermal heating could support ‘life zones’ under its surface, akin to subsurface lakes found in Antarctica,” said Edward Guinan, Astrophysicist at the varsity.

Earth
Newly discovered Super-Earth Exoplanet May Sustain Primitive Life

“We note that the surface temperature on Jupiter’s icy moon Europa is similar to Barnard b but because of tidal heating, Europa probably has liquid oceans under its icy surface,” Guinan added.

The results were announced at the 233rd meeting of the American Astronomy Society (AAS) in Seattle.

Although very faint, it may be possible for Barnard b to be imaged by future very large telescopes, according to Guinan.

“Such observations will shed light on the nature of the planet’s atmosphere, surface, and potential habitability,” he said.

The most significant aspect of the discovery of Barnard’s star b is that the two nearest star systems to the Sun are now known to host planets.

Also Read- NASA Discovers Third New Planet

“This supports previous studies based on Kepler Mission data, inferring that planets can be very common throughout the galaxy, even numbering in the tens of billions,” said co-author Scott Engle from the varsity.

“Also, Barnard’s Star is about twice as old as the Sun — about nine billion years old compared to 4.6 billion years for the Sun. The universe has been producing Earth-size planets far longer than we, or even the Sun itself, have existed.” (IANS)