Washington: Scientists have revealed that a new plant species is providing an insight into how evolution works and could help improve crop plants.
The new plant species, Tragopogon miscellus, appeared in the United States 80 years ago. It came about when two species in the daisy family, introduced from Europe, mated to produce a hybrid offspring.
The species had mated before in Europe, but the hybrids were never successful. However in America something new happened. The number of chromosomes in the hybrid spontaneously doubled, and at once it became larger than its parents and quickly spread.
Scientists studied the Tragopogon miscellus to understand how evolution works.
They found that the new plant species had relaxed control of gene expression in its earliest generations. But today, after 80 years of evolution, different patterns of gene expression are found in every plant.
"We caught evolution in the act," said Doug Soltis, co-leader of the research team. New and diverse patterns of gene expression may allow the new species to rapidly adapt in new environments.
Crossing different plant species to produce hybrids is a process used in farming to produce greater yields and stronger plants. Studying how this works in nature can give us new ideas to apply to agriculture.
The work was carried out at the University of Florida and Iowa State University and involved scientists from Queen Mary, University of London, Massey University in New Zealand, and Shanxi Normal University in China.
The study was published in the journal Current Biology.