Charles Darwin Theory’s 51.7-Million-Year-Old Genetic Secret Unlocked!

First Posted: Dec 07, 2016 02:11 AM EST

Scientists have recently unlocked a 51.7-million-year-old genetic secret to a Charles Darwin theory that was proposed more than 150 years ago. The cluster of genes responsible for the Primula flower's reproductive traits have been identified.

According to Darwin, certain species of plants with two different forms of flower, where the female and male organs were of differing lengths, had formed that way to facilitate out-crossing by insect pollinators. The groundbreaking theory coined the term "heterostyly," which showed the crucial role of the two forms of flower known as "thrums" and "pins." The hypothesis paved the way for the foundation of modern genetic study.

Now researchers from the University of East Anglia's School of Biological Sciences and Earlham Institute in the U.K. have recognized exactly which part of the species' genes shaped them that way, with the help of an event that took place more than 51 million years ago.

"To identify the genes which control the biology noted by Darwin is an exciting moment. Numerous studies have been done over the past decades to explore the genetic basis of this phenomenon but now we have pinpointed the supergene directly responsible, the S locus," said researcher Professor Philip Gilmartin, according to the University of East Anglia.

"Not only did we identify the supergene but we found it is specific to just one of the flower forms, the thrum. This insight has profound implications for our understanding of a key evolutionary innovation of flowering plants."

Incidentally, supergenes are groups of closely related genes that are always inherited together as a unit and control complex biology. The Economic Times reported that the scientists mapped the Primula flower's genes to sequence its genome to identify the specific gene cluster that causes the differing flower morphs.

The research team of scientists has said that knowing about the genetics which underpin flower development and species reproduction will help in understanding more about the process of pollination is the basis of food security and biodiversity, especially in the face of climate change.

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