Revolution in botany as family trees of plants are uprooted will rewrite botanical textbooks

BOTANISTS have abolished the single plant kingdom of the textbooks and established four separate kingdoms in what is being described as a revolution in biological classification.

A mammoth effort to uncover the biological relationships of the world's flora has also found that there was one common ancestor - a botanical Eve - to all green plants alive today.

In a further twist to botanical taxonomy, scientists have categorised fungi - traditionally grouped within the plant kingdom - as being closer to animals than to plants.

The findings are the result of work by 200 scientists from 12 countries, who for the last five years have reconstructed the evolutionary relationships between the Earth's entire flora using DNA technology.

Called the Green Plant Phylogeny Research Co-ordination Group, the scientists yesterday published what they have called the most complete "tree of life" for any group of living organisms.

One of the study's major findings is that the invasion of the land by plants more than 450 million years ago was led by aquatic plants emerging from freshwater and not, as again stated in biology textbooks, by marine plants emerging from the oceans.

Brent Mishler, a biology professor at the University of California, Berkeley, and a principal co-investigator on the project, said the new insights into how land plants evolved indicate one common ancestor for all the flowers, grasses, trees, ferns, shrubs and mosses of the world.

"Plants came out on to land probably many times, but only one lineage actually made it. This indicates there's an Eve - a common ancestor - in the primordial soup of green plants," Professor Mishler said.

"Until now, it was commonly believed that within the green plant group there were several lineages of land plants. For example, people believed that mosses were derived from a different aquatic ancestor than were flowers or ferns," he said.

The new tree of plant life was released yesterday at the 16th International Botanical Congress in St Louis, Missouri. It shows that the single plant kingdom of old now consists of four kingdoms - a kingdom of green plants, one each for the "red" and "brown" seawater plants of the oceans, and a fourth belonging to the fungi, which are now classified alongside animals.

The new insights into botanical relationships have emerged because of the ability of scientists to analyse vast amounts of DNA information quickly and accurately.

Genetic studies of flowering plants, for instance, have shown that they can no longer be simply divided into monocots (grasses) and dicots (flowers). For instance, some traditional dicots, such as magnolias and water lilies, are now classified as belonging to the same branch as the monocots.

"We can't really think of life on Earth in terms of only the animal kingdom and the plant kingdom anymore. In fact, there are five kingdoms of complex organisms on Earth today. One of the kingdoms, fungi, are more related to you than the tree on which they are growing," Professor Mishler said.

Increased understanding of plant life will allow scientists to better predict biological properties, which could be useful in discovering new substances such as drugs, he added.

Suggested Topics
Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
News
peopleIt seems you can't silence Katie Hopkins, even on Christmas Day...
Arts and Entertainment
Left to right: Stanley Tucci, Sophie Grabol and Christopher Eccleston in ‘Fortitude’
tvSo Sky Atlantic arrived in Iceland to film their new and supposedly snow-bound series 'Fortitude'...
Life and Style
fashion
Arts and Entertainment
tv
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Account Manager

£20000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This full service social media ...

Recruitment Genius: Data Analyst - Online Marketing

£24000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: We are 'Changemakers in retail'...

Austen Lloyd: Senior Residential Conveyancer

Very Competitive: Austen Lloyd: Senior Conveyancer - South West We are see...

Austen Lloyd: Residential / Commercial Property Solicitor

Excellent Salary: Austen Lloyd: DORSET MARKET TOWN - SENIOR PROPERTY SOLICITOR...

Day In a Page

Isis in Iraq: Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment by militants

'Jilan killed herself in the bathroom. She cut her wrists and hanged herself'

Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment
Ed Balls interview: 'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'

Ed Balls interview

'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'
He's behind you, dude!

US stars in UK panto

From David Hasselhoff to Jerry Hall
Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz: What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?

Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz

What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?
Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

Planet’s surface is inhospitable to humans but 30 miles above it is almost perfect
Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history - clocks, rifles, frogmen’s uniforms and colonial helmets

Clocks, rifles, swords, frogmen’s uniforms

Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history
Return to Gaza: Four months on, the wounds left by Israel's bombardment have not yet healed

Four months after the bombardment, Gaza’s wounds are yet to heal

Kim Sengupta is reunited with a man whose plight mirrors the suffering of the Palestinian people
Gastric surgery: Is it really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Is gastric surgery really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Critics argue that it’s crazy to operate on healthy people just to stop them eating
Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction Part 2 - now LIVE

Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction

Bid on original art, or trips of a lifetime to Africa or the 'Corrie' set, and help Homeless Veterans
Pantomime rings the changes to welcome autistic theatre-goers

Autism-friendly theatre

Pantomime leads the pack in quest to welcome all
The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

Sony suffered a chorus of disapproval after it withdrew 'The Interview', but it's not too late for it to take a stand, says Joan Smith
From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?

Panto dames: before and after

From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?
Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Booksellers say readers are turning away from dark modern thrillers and back to the golden age of crime writing
Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best,' says founder of JustGiving

Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best'

Ten million of us have used the JustGiving website to donate to good causes. Its co-founder says that being dynamic is as important as being kind
The botanist who hunts for giant trees at Kew Gardens

The man who hunts giants

A Kew Gardens botanist has found 25 new large tree species - and he's sure there are more out there