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Curr Biol. 1999 Dec 16-30;9(24):1485-8.

Multigene analyses identify the three earliest lineages of extant flowering plants.

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Department of Biology, Jordan Hall, Indiana University, Bloomington 47405, USA.


Flowering plants (angiosperms) are by far the largest, most diverse, and most important group of land plants, with over 250,000 species and a dominating presence in most terrestrial ecosystems. Understanding the origin and early diversification of angiosperms has posed a long-standing botanical challenge [1]. Numerous morphological and molecular systematic studies have attempted to reconstruct the early history of this group, including identifying the root of the angiosperm tree. There is considerable disagreement among these studies, with various groups of putatively basal angiosperms from the subclass Magnoliidae having been placed at the root of the angiosperm tree (reviewed in [2-4]). We investigated the early evolution of angiosperms by conducting combined phylogenetic analyses of five genes that represent all three plant genomes from a broad sampling of angiosperms. Amborella, a monotypic, vessel-less dioecious shrub from New Caledonia, was clearly identified as the first branch of angiosperm evolution, followed by the Nymphaeales (water lillies), and then a clade of woody vines comprising Schisandraceae and Austrobaileyaceae. These findings are remarkably congruent with those from several concurrent molecular studies [5-7] and have important implications for whether or not the first angiosperms were woody and contained vessels, for interpreting the evolution of other key characteristics of basal angiosperms, and for understanding the timing and pattern of angiosperm origin and diversification.

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