How a family picnic ended with discovery of a new plant species
A NEW species of plant that has only just come into existence has been discovered in Scotland using pioneering DNA testing.
Mario Vallejo-Marin, a lecturer in evolutionary biology at the University of Stirling, spotted the unusual-looking monkey-flower while he was on a family picnic in South Lanarkshire.
Knowing that hybrids of the two American species which it resembled are usually sterile, he obtained a sample after noticing the plant had seeds.
Experts at Edinburgh’s Royal Botanic Garden used DNA analysis to confirm he had found a new species – believed to have been created less than 150 years ago through a rare natural cross between the two alien plants.
The monkey-flower, or Mimulus peregrinus, is expected to be the forerunner of more new plants produced by invasive species which are changing the country’s biodiversity.
Dr Vallejo-Marin said: “I was with my family – returning from a hike and a visit to the lead museum in the Leadhills area – [when] I spotted some plants that I have noticed in a previous trip, and convinced my family to stop to take a sample. As we walked down a stream I found a group of plants producing seeds. This was an unusual observation as the plants previously seen in this area were sterile hybrids.
“I knew that this could be something new – and after many tests – I was able to confirm that the plants I collected were in fact a new hybrid species that had undergone a process of genome duplication. I was very excited! The finding is significant as this species is not only new to science, but new to the world as it has only been created recently (in the past 140 years or less) from two plant species from North and South America. I am quite happy that this new species is a Scottish discovery.”
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Sunday 19 May 2013
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