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Genome of the only marine flowering plant sequenced

Published online 12 February 2016

Scientists uncover how a flowering plant evolved to thrive in sea.

Biplab Das

By sequencing the genome of Zostera marina, a seagrass and the only flowering plant to have moved from land to sea, evolutionary biologists have discovered how gene loss and gain helped it to re-adapt to marine life. 

The plant’s genes responsible for sensing light, regulating osmosis, plant defense and pollination have changed to adapt to life in the sea1

Researchers from twenty different universities, including King Abdullah University of Science and Technology (KAUST), Saudi Arabia, found that the plant lost all the genes responsible for pore formation in leaves, synthesis and detection of volatile compounds, and plant defense. It also lacked genes that play roles in sensing light and resisting ultraviolet-light-induced damage.

Ten genes necessary for making exine, the protective outer coat of pollen grain were found to be missing, but all the other genes that contribute to the development of viable pollen grains remained intact, the researchers say.

“The plant’s decoded genome will help us understand its rapid adaptation under climate change as well as its ecological roles in storing carbon, stopping coastal erosion and working as nursery for fish and various invertebrates,” says lead author Jeanine L. Olsen from the University of Groningen, the Netherlands.  


  1. Olsen, J. L. et al. The genome of the seagrass Zostera marina reveals angiosperm adaptation to the sea. Nature (2016).