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plant evolution article Assign 3a - Science Observer A...

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Science Observer A Tangled Tale of Plant Evolution Lignin, the tough stuff so vital to the migration of plants from water to land, gets aroiirid A new discovery in a red alga is chal- lenging some conventional wisdom about plant evolution. As ancestors of land plants aban- doned their aquatic nurseries for life on shore, they needed the means to seal in water and hold themselves up to thrive. Lignin, a strengthening and stiffening polymer common in woody plant cells, contributes to both extremely well. Lignin production for those tasks was considered a key adaptive achieve- ment of vascular plants, which de- scend from green algae. Now a Uni- versity of British Columbia botanist and some highly specialized chemists have strong evidence for lignin in a red alga called Callimilirou clwilosporiouies. The finditig suggests that a biological building block fimdamental to the suc- cess of land plants has roots that stretch The rigid-bodied red algae Calliarthron cheHosporioides thrives in tough intertidal marine environments. Attached to rocks, it rides out daily tide changes that generate huge forces. New research detected lignin, a tough polymer associated with land pUnts, in the alga. back far deeper—and maybe wider— through evolutionary time than was known. "This pathway is involved in the production of other secondary me- tabolites like pigments in plants. A lot of that is likely to be conserved pretty far back in the evolutionary history of algae," says Patrick T Martone, the botanist who led the study, published in January in Current Biologi/. Martone, now an assistant profes- sor, didn't set out to locate lignin in algae while a graduate and postdoc- toral student at Stanford University.
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