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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
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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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Scientists Try To Map Animal Genes To Save Them From Extinction Down the Line

The project has similarities with the Earth BioGenome Project, which seeks to catalog the genomes for 1.5 million species.

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This undated photo provided by NOAA Fisheries, a division of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, shows alewives, a species of river herring in North Kingstown, R.I. The federal government's National Marine Fisheries Service is looking at the health of the populations of alewives and blueback herring to see if the little fish should be listed under the Endangered Species Act. VOA

A group of scientists unveiled the first results Thursday of an ambitious effort to map the genes of tens of thousands of animal species, a project they said could help save animals from extinction down the line.

The scientists are working with the Genome 10,000 consortium on the Vertebrate Genomes Project, which is seeking to map the genomes of all 66,000 species of mammal, bird, reptile, amphibian and fish on Earth. Genome 10,000 has members at more than 50 institutions around the globe, and the Vertebrate Genomes Project last year.

The consortium Thursday released the first 15 such maps, ranging from the Canada lynx to the kakapo, a flightless parrot native to New Zealand.

Future conservation

The genome is the entire set of genetic material that is present in an organism. The release of the first sets is “a statement to the world that what we want to accomplish is indeed feasible,” said Harris Lewin, a professor of evolution at University of California, Davis, who is working on the project.

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The work is intriguing because it could inform future conservation efforts of jeopardized species. VOA

“The time has come, but of course it’s only the beginning,” Lewin said.

The work will help inform future conservation of jeopardized species, scientists working on the project said. The first 14 species to be mapped also include the duck-billed platypus, two bat species and the zebra finch. The zebra finch was the one species for which both sexes were mapped, bringing the total to 15.

Sequencing the genome of tens of thousands of animals could easily take 10 years, said Sadye Paez, program director for the project. But giving scientists access to this kind of information could help save rare species because it would give conservationists and biologists a new set of tools, she said.

Paez described the project as an effort to “essentially communicate a library of life.”

Three sequencing hubs

Tanya Lama, a doctoral candidate in environmental conservation at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, coordinated the effort to sequence the lynx genome. The wild cat is the subject of debate about its conservation status in the United States, and better understanding of genetics can better protect its future, Lama said.

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Genome 10,000 has members at more than 50 institutions around the globe, and the Vertebrate Genomes Project last year. Pixabay

“It’s going to help us plan for the future, help us generate tools for monitoring population health, and help us inform conservation strategy,” she said.

The project has three “genome sequencing hubs,” including Rockefeller University in New York, the Sanger Institute outside Cambridge, England, and the Max Planck Institute of Molecular Cell Biology and Genetics in Dresden, Germany, organizers said.

The work is intriguing because it could inform future conservation efforts of jeopardized species, said Mollie Matteson, a senior scientist with the Center for Biological Diversity who is not involved in the project. More information about animals’ genetics could lead to better understanding of how animals resist disease or cope with changes in the environment, she said.

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Sequencing the genome of tens of thousands of animals could easily take 10 years, said Sadye Paez, program director for the project. Pixabay

“I think what’s interesting to me from a conservation aspect is just what we might be able to discern about the genetic diversity within a species,” Matteson said.

Also Read: British Scientists Use Sunlight And Convert it to Fuel

The project has similarities with the Earth BioGenome Project, which seeks to catalog the genomes for 1.5 million species. Lewin chairs that project’s working group. The Vertebrate Genomes Project will contribute to that effort. (VOA)