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Ancient Alga Evolved to Live on Land Before It Left the Ocean [WATCH]

Nov 13, 2015 06:57 PM EST
Closterium strigosum, a green algae
Scientists say that the earliest alga that lived in prehistoric waters had the mechanisms to interact with a prehistoric land-dwelling fungus in a relationship that would allow it to become the earliest plant on Earth. Until now, scientists wondered how the alga could have made the leap to land.
(Photo : Michael Melkonian)

Have you ever wondered how the first form of plant-life was able to rise out of the ocean and survive on land?

For centuries, scientists assumed that the alga that made the jump from water to land had developed a capacity to draw fundamental nutrients from a certain kind of fungus arbuscular mycorrhiza (AM), which has a symbiotic relationship with plant roots -- allowing them to absorb water and nutrients from soil in exchange for carbon. AM dates back 450 million years. Traces of this fungus have been found inside the oldest plant macro-fossils ever discovered, but it also still exists. However, scientists until now were not sure about one crucial part: how the alga was able to survive on land long enough to make connection with the fungus, according to a statement.

Now, new evidence suggests that the alga had been developing its ability to have a synergetic exchange with AM long before it washed ashore.

The study, led by Dr. Pierre-Marc Delaux of the U.K.'s John Innes Centre in collaboration with the University of Wisconsin Madison and other institutions, analyzed the DNA and RNA of prehistoric plants and green algae. Through their research, the scientists learned that the shared algal ancestor between the earliest known plants and green algae carried the set of genes needed to identify and cooperate with AM, as the statement noted.

"At some point 450 million years ago, alga from the earth's waters splashed up on to barren land. Somehow it survived and took root, a watershed moment that kick-started the evolution of life on earth. Our discovery shows for the first time that the alga already knew how to survive on land while it was still in the water. Without the development of this pre-adapted capability in alga, the earth could be a very different place today," observed Delaux in a release.

By already having the genetic pathways to cooperate with the fungus, the ancient alga was able to survive on dry land and eventually evolved into the first plant on earth. (Scroll to read more...) 

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