Orchid gives up the se­crets of its suc­cess

Sunday Times (Sri Lanka) - - INTERNATIONAL - By He­len Briggs

The orchid is known for its beauty and once changed hands for vast sums. Now, sci­en­tists are gain­ing an in­sight into how the plant prized for its beauty colonised al­most every habi­tat on Earth.

A team in China has un­picked the ge­netic blue­print of an orchid that grows wild in the moun­tains of south­east China.

The orchid in ques­tion, from the sub­fam­ily, Aposta­siodea, split off from modern species mil­lions of years ago.

Re­searchers led by the Orchid Con­ser­va­tion and Re­search Cen­tre of Shen­zhen se­quenced the genome of the orchid and com­pared it with more modern species.

The data, pub­lished in the jour­nal, Na­ture, "pro­vides a ref­er­ence for study­ing orchid evo­lu­tion" and sug­gests dis­tinc­tive fea­tures found only in or­chids played a key role "in the tremen­dous ra­di­a­tion of the group", they say.

The orchid is one of the big­gest fam­i­lies of flow­er­ing plants. Many are grown for their beau­ti­ful flow­ers, while oth­ers are of eco­nomic im­por­tance, such as the source of the food flavour­ing, vanilla.

Com­ment­ing on the study, Dr. Trevor Dines, of the wild plant con­ser­va­tion char­ity, Plantlife, said or­chids have a host of unique fea­tures that make them spe­cial and in­stantly recog­nis­able.

"Whether you're look­ing at a big, blousy Moth orchid from the su­per­mar­ket or a tiny rare Bog orchid on a re­mote Snow­do­nia hill­side, the flow­ers have the same un­der­ly­ing blue­print," he said.

"This re­search re­veals that el­e­ments of this blue­print ap­peared right at the very start of the evo­lu­tion of the orchid fam­ily, and may well have helped in their spec­tac­u­lar sub­se­quent evo­lu­tion into the 26,500- 28,000 species we know of to­day."

Some of the unique fea­tures of or­chids in­clude masses of pollen, known as pol­lo­nia, ex­cep­tion­ally light seeds and the abil­ity to grow upon other plants, us­ing them for sup­port. (Courtesy BBC)

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