The Spread of the Most Genetically Uniformed Plant
By Georgia Richards
Seeking to discover the distribution of peat moss plants (Sphagnum subnitens) globally, Professor Erin Karlin and colleagues from surrounding universities in the United States, detected the most extreme case yet of a single genotype. This finding initiated an analysis into the genetic variety, relationships and climate adaption of such plants.
"The plant that conquered: Peat Moss" (Walker, 2012)
Peat moss is a pale green to deep red plant that can grow up to thirty centimeters tall and hold up to twenty times its weight in water (Encyclopedia Britannica Online, 2012). This is due to their veinless leaves and stem cortex that “contain many interconnected, enlarged dead cells, with external openings through which water can enter” (Encyclopedia Britannica Online, 2012). They are predominately found in Europe however, most recently across Northwestern America and the west coast of the South Island in New Zealand (Walker, 2012).
The wonder plant: deep red form of moss species (Karlin, 2011)
In all Eukaryotic cells, inherited information is passed onto the offspring through their parent’s genes. These hereditary units are embedded into specific sequences of DNA nucleotides (Cain, Campbell, Jackson, Meyers, Minorsky, Reece, Urry, Wasserman, 2009). The DNA is synthesis and condensed into chromosomes inside the nucleus throughout the S phase in the interphase of the cell cycle (Cain, Campbell, Jackson, Meyers, Minorsky, Reece, Urry, Wasserman, 2009). This activates the transcription factors ready for the meiotic phase that eventually allows the replication of genes to be passed on in reproduction.
The inherited information in Eukaryotic cells (Genome Management Information System, 2009)
It is believed peat moss arrived in America between the turn of the 18th and 20th century when genetically identical copies began to replicate along the coastline (Karlin, Andrus, Boles and Shaw, 2011). Sphagnum subnitens can reproduce in three different ways;
1. the first occurs by vegetative reproduction where the moss clones itself by passing on identical DNA to another individual (Walker, 2012).
2. Secondly, the plant can reproduce by sexual reproduction. Here the same parent produces both the egg and the sperm that are genetically different from each other (Walker, 2012).
3. In contrast, one parent of the peat moss can also produce an egg and sperm that is genetically identical (Walker, 2012), producing offspring that have exact duplicate copies of DNA.
This system of self-fertilisation explains how a single moss contributed to one hundred percent of the plants gene pool without being clones.
The plants complex way of reproducing in America and New Zealand highlight its ability to colonies across extensive geological areas (Walker, 2012). This mating system creates an absence of genetic diversity and variation from the founding parent (Karlin, Andrus, Boles and Shaw, 2011). However, evident health levels of the moss in these regions indicate they have had no profound suffering from their common genetic make up (Walker, 2012). This is completely juxtaposed to other animals and plants where inbreeding could spark “unwanted genetic mutations and compromise their evolutionary fitness” (Walker, 2012). Therefore the moss can continue to thrive without specialisation to where it occurs.
The low genetic variation and reproduction systems of self-fertilization allow the moss to stay genetically uniformed and continue to grow in ranges of climates. The identical genome found in peat moss in America and New Zealand stands as the most significant discovery of a plants ability to colonies long-distant regions.
Cain, M.L, Campbell, N.A, Jackson, R.B, Meyers, N, Minorsky, P.V, Reece, J.B, Urry, L.A, Wasserman, S.A, 2009, Biology, 8th edn, Pearson Education Australia PTY LTD, Australia, pp. 249-250.
Encyclopedia Britannica Online, 2012, Peat Moss, 18/03/2012, http://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/448242/peat-moss
Genome Management Information System, 2009, Plant Genome Science, National Academy of Science, Washington, D.C., 19/03/2012,
Karlin, E. F., Andrus, R. E., Boles, S. B. and Shaw, A. J, 2011, ‘One haploid parent contributes 100% of the gene pool for a widespread species in northwest North America’, Molecular Ecology, vol. 20, pp. 753–767.
Karlin, E.F., 2011, Research, Professor of Plant Ecology, 19/03/2012, http://phobos.ramapo.edu/~ekarlin/research/index.html
Walker, M, 2012, ‘Single peat moss ‘conquered America’, BBC – Earth News, 16/03/2012, http://news.bbc.co.uk/earth/hi/earth_news/newsid_9359000/9359075.stm