Plants are primary producers on the earth, supplying our food directly and indirectly, creating the habitat we live in, and providing many other materials for everyday life. However, our knowledge of plant evolution remains scanty. Improvement of crops and understanding the roles of plants in our environment partially hinge on our knowledge of plant evolution. Revolutions in molecular biology, phylogenetics, and computer science have made it possible for the first time in history to reconstruct accurately the phylogeny of plants. In this project by Dr. Yin-Long Qiu at the University of Massachusetts-Amherst, three different approaches will be employed to understand both organismal and molecular aspects of land plant evolution. First, several genes from all three plant genomes (nucleus, chloroplast, mitochondrion) will be sequenced and analyzed in combination with the data available from the public domain to reconstruct a multigene land plant phylogeny. Second, several genomic structural features from the mitochondrial genome, such as intron acquisition, intron transposition, and gene cluster disintegration, will be investigated independently to evaluate critical parts of the sequence-based phylogeny and at the same to understand mitochondrial genome evolution in early land plants. Last, a few mitochondrial genomes will be sequenced to gain an in-depth look at mitochondrial genome evolution during early land plant radiation and to provide more genomic structural characters for assessing robustness of the relationships resolved through gene sequence analyses among major lineages of early land plants: liverworts, mosses, hornworts, and vascular plants. Plant science is at the dawn of a new era. After two decades of separate development along distinst lines of morphology, systematics, genetics, physiology, and ecology, these sub-disciplines begin to integrate into a new comprehensive plant biology. Thus, this project also aims to reach two educational goals. One is to train several graduate students and postdoctoral associates in the newly emerging field of evolutionary genomics. They will fill in a knowledge rift between traditional systematics and modern genomics that is developing in many biology departments. The other is to develop three courses, Plant Evolution, Evolutionary Genomics, and Phylogenetics, which are emerging fields with a recent explosion of new information. These courses will serve the function for both undergraduate and graduate education. In summary, the five lines of work outlined in this project are likely to enhance significantly our knowledge of land plant evolution.

National Science Foundation (NSF)
Division of Environmental Biology (DEB)
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Richard M. McCourt
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University of Michigan Ann Arbor
Ann Arbor
United States
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