A grant has been awarded to Dr. Karen S. Renzaglia of Southern Illinois University to investigate green plant evolution. Humans rely on green plants for food, shelter, clothing, and for providing the oxygen that is essential to life. From a biological perspective and as one of the oldest and most diverse branches of the tree of life, green plants provide an unparalleled system in which to explore interrelationships of living organisms and to approach some of the most significant and intriguing questions concerning the diversification of life on earth. Many of these questions relate to fundamental evolutionary events, such as the transition of organisms from single-celled to multicellular body plans, the colonization of land, and the derivation of different life-cycle modes.
In this collaborative project, including principal investigators from the Bigelow Laboratory for Ocean Sciences, the University of California at Berkeley, Southern Illinois University, Utah State University, the University of Washington, and Yale University, the focus will be: 1) resolving the primary pattern of diversification among green plants; 2) investigating questions relating to the long evolutionary history of these organisms; 3) providing a model for analysis that will be applicable to other groups of organisms with extensive evolutionary histories. The team will emphasize the development of novel analytical methods that make it possible to conduct analyses across multiple scales and to use all of the available data from heterogeneous sources. A solid backbone of relationships based on genomes and structure for 50-100 plants, representing the critical deep-branching lineages, will enable the integration of previous and ongoing studies of many more plants into a comprehensive picture of green plant genealogy. The primary objectives of the project are: 1) complete a matrix of whole genome sequences for chloroplasts and mitochondria, and develop Bacterial Artificial Chromosome (BAC) nuclear genome libraries; 2) produce a comprehensive set of comparable morphological and ultrastructural data for the same plants; and 3) incorporate inferences from across the phylogenetic hierarchy in green plants using methods designed to permit scaling across studies. Multiple integrated training, educational and outreach activities will result in continual dissemination of the activities and progress of this research group to the scientific community and beyond.
Karen Renzaglia will have primary responsibilities for collecting and data basing morphological and ultrastructural data for the land plants included in this study. She will also assist in the interpretation of land plant molecular data, in the generation of dissemination tools such as web sites, and in educational and outreach activities.