We are tracing the evolutionary history of genetic programs for developmental regulation initially identified in seed plants, by examining them functionally in Marchantia polymorpha and related liverworts. We are also identifying and characterizing novel regulators of developmental processes such as dormancy and circadian rhythms. Dormancy was a key adaption to facilitate survival in terrestrial environments, enabling seasonal growth. Understanding dormancy regulation in liverworts will aid efforts to decipher the evolution of dormancy leading to the adapted forms seen in flowering plants. The liverwort Marchantia is emerging as a powerful model species. This unique plant has low genetic redundancy, and many molecular tools are available, including a sequenced genome.
In the long term, these project poses two interrelated questions: 1) how similar are the genetic programs for developmental processes in evolutionarily distant plants, and 2) how can we exploit the simplicity of bryophyte model systems to decipher the complexity of flowering plants? This involves examination of genetic and hormonal pathways for phytohormones such as auxin and abscisic acid, and will lay a foundation for the discovery of previously uncharacterized components regulating plant development.
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