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Lone survivor of ancient flowers is gluttonous gene consumer

Rare Amborella shrub has engulfed whole genomes from other species

EARLY BLOOMING SURVIVOR  A not-exactly-flashy bloom of the Amborella shrub has become a botanical celebrity because its genes reveal clues to the early history of flowering plants.

A shrub from the most ancient group of flowering plants alive today steals and hoards genes from other species on a staggering scale.

Botanists have been building a case for more than a decade that Amborella trichopoda is the only known survivor of a plant lineage that branches off at the very base of the genealogical tree of living flowering plants. Now researchers describe the plant’s genes in detail.

It turns out this oddity has captured not just pieces but whole genomes from three kinds of green algae and a moss, says Jeffrey Palmer of Indiana University Bloomington. These genes aren’t in Amborella’s cell nucleus but in the separate genome of the mitochondria, the little powerhouses of the cell.

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