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Crop Biotech Update

Oxford University Scientists Discover Oldest Root Meristem

June 8, 2016

Oxford University scientists have discovered the oldest known plant root meristem. The cells of an ancient plant, named Radix carbonica (Latin for 'coal root') were found in a fossilized root tip in the Oxford University Herbaria. This is the first actively growing fossilized root discovered.

The 320 million-year-old stem cells discovered are different to those from today, with a unique pattern of cell division unknown until now. It also reveals that some mechanisms controlling root formation have now become extinct.

These root stem cells are part of a plant growing in the Earth's first tropical wetland forests, with trees over 50 m in height. The evolution of these deep rooting systems from back then increased chemical weathering that pulled CO2 from the atmosphere, leading to the cooling of the Earth and one of the great ice ages.

Professor Liam Dolan of Oxford University said, "These fossils demonstrate how the roots of these ancient plants grew for the first time. It is startling that something so small could have had such a dramatic effect on the Earth's climate."

For more on this study, read the article in Current Biology.