Washington: Scientists at the University of Haifa have discovered a gene that played a key role in the evolution of life on land.
“Life on Earth began in the water, and in order for plants to rise above water to live on land, they had to develop a cuticle membrane that would protect them from uncontrolled evaporation and dehydration,” said Prof. Eviatar Nevo of the Institute of Evolution of the University of Haifa, who took part in the study.
“In our study we discovered a completely new gene that along with other genes contributes to the formation of this cuticle,” added Prof. Nevo.
In the course of doctoral research carried out by Guoxiong Chen, which began at the University of Haifa in 2000 under the supervision of Prof. Nevo, the Chinese doctoral student found a mutation of wild barley in the Judean Desert that was significantly smaller than regular wild barley.
It was found that this mutation causes an abnormal increase in water loss because of a disruption in the production of the plant’s cutin that is secreted from the epidermal cells and is a component in the plant’s cuticle that reduces water loss and prevents the plant’s dehydration.
After about eight years of research, this team discovered a new gene that contributes to the production of cutin, which is found in all land plants but is either nonexistent or present in tiny amounts in aquatic plants.
Chen called this new gene Eibi1, in honour of his supervisor, Prof. Nevo.
“This is one of the genes that contributed to the actual eventuality of life on land as we know it today. It is a key element in the adaptation process that aquatic plants underwent in order to live on land,” explained Prof. Nevo.
The study has been published in the prestigious journal PNAS.