New research published this week in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences provides new insights into angiosperm genetic origin, an evolutionary innovation that quickly gave rise to many diverse flowering plants more than 130 million years ago. Moreover, a flower with genetic programming similar to a water lily may have started it all.
Gymnosperms are a group of seed-bearing plants that include conifers and cycads that produce "cones" as reproductive structures, one example being the well-known pine cone. "We show how the first flowering plants evolved from pre-existing genetic programs found in gymnosperm cones and then developed into the diversity of flowering plants we see today," said biologist Doug Soltis, co-lead researcher at the University of Florida in Gainesville.. "A genetic program in the gymnosperm cone was modified to make the first flower."
But, herein is the riddle. How can flowers that contain both male and female parts develop from plants that produce cones when individual cones are either male or female? The solution, say researchers, is that a male gymnosperm cone has almost everything a flower has in terms of its genetic wiring.