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Single Mutation Let Plants Colonize Land

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Scientists find evidence for crucial root in the history of plant evolution
Source: American Chemical Society News Service
Publication date: 2003-03-26

NEW ORLEANS, March 25  If ancient plants had not migrated from the shallow
seas of early Earth to the barren land of the continents, life as we know
it might never have emerged. And now it appears this massive floral
colonization may have been spurred by a single genetic mutation that
allowed primitive plants to make lignin, a chemical process that leads to
the formation of a cell wall.

The new findings were presented today at the 225th national meeting of the
American Chemical Society, the world's largest scientific society, in New

Using an advanced analytical technique, applied for the first time to
fossils, a team of researchers studied an extinct plant species called
Asteroxylon  thought to be one of the first plants to inhabit the land of
the early continents. [...]
Asteroxylon was found fossilized in the beds of the Rhynie Chert  a rock
formation in northeast Scotland. Fossils from this site have revealed much
about Earth as it might have been 400 million years ago, in the early
Devonian period.

"What we came up with is evidence that really can't be explained any other
way than the fact that this plant, when it lived, had two structural
biopolymers in its cell wall," Cody says. "The differences that you see in
the spectra are consistent with a greater amount of lignin being in one
region of the cell wall than the other, which is consistent with what we
see in modern plants."