Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

Western Australia's incredible underground orchid

Date:
February 9, 2011
Source:
University of Western Australia
Summary:
Rhizanthella gardneri is a cute, quirky and critically endangered orchid that lives all its life underground. It even blooms underground, making it virtually unique amongst plants. Last year, using radioactive tracers, scientists showed that the orchid gets all its nutrients by parasitizing fungi associated with the roots of broom bush, a woody shrub of the Western Australia outback. Now, with less than 50 individuals left in the wild, scientists have made a timely and remarkable discovery about its genome.

Rhizanthella gardneri is a cute, quirky and critically endangered orchid that lives all its life underground.
Credit: Image courtesy of University of Western Australia

Rhizanthella gardneri is a cute, quirky and critically endangered orchid that lives all its life underground. It even blooms underground, making it virtually unique amongst plants.

Last year, using radioactive tracers, scientists at The University of Western Australia showed that the orchid gets all its nutrients by parasitising fungi associated with the roots of broom bush, a woody shrub of the WA outback.

Now, with less than 50 individuals left in the wild, scientists have made a timely and remarkable discovery about its genome.

Despite the fact that this fully subterranean orchid cannot photosynthesise and has no green parts at all, it still retains chloroplasts -- the site of photosynthesis in plants.

"We found that compared with normal plants, 70 per cent of the genes in the chloroplast have been lost," said Dr Etienne Delannoy, of the ARC Centre for Excellence in Plant Energy Biology, the lead researcher of a study published in Molecular Biology and Evolution. "With only 37 genes, this makes it the smallest of all known plant chloroplast genomes."

"The chloroplast genome was known to code for functions other than photosynthesis, but in normal plants, these functions are hard to study," said ARC Centre Director Professor Ian Small.

"In Rhizanthella, everything that isn't essential for its parasitic lifestyle has gone. We discovered that it has retained a chloroplast genome to make only four crucial proteins.

Our results are relevant to understanding gene loss in other parasites, for example, the Plasmodium parasite that causes malaria."

Associate Professor Mark Brundrett from the Wheatbelt Orchid Rescue Project describes Rhizanthella as one of the most beautiful, strange and iconic orchids in the world.

"Combining on-the-ground conservation efforts with cutting edge laboratory technologies has led to a great discovery with impacts for both science and conservation. The genome sequence is a very valuable resource, as it makes it possible to estimate the genetic diversity of this Declared Rare plant."

Professor Brundrett has been working with the Department of Environment and Conservation and volunteers from the West Australian Native Orchid Study and Conservation Group to locate these unique orchids.

"We needed all the help we could get since it often took hours of searching under shrubs on hands and knees to find just one underground orchid!"


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by University of Western Australia. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Journal Reference:

  1. E. Delannoy, S. Fujii, C. C. des Francs, M. Brundrett, I. Small. Rampant Gene Loss in the Underground Orchid Rhizanthella gardneri Highlights Evolutionary Constraints on Plastid Genomes. Molecular Biology and Evolution, 2011; DOI: 10.1093/molbev/msr028

Cite This Page:

University of Western Australia. "Western Australia's incredible underground orchid." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 9 February 2011. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2011/02/110208101337.htm>.
University of Western Australia. (2011, February 9). Western Australia's incredible underground orchid. ScienceDaily. Retrieved July 24, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2011/02/110208101337.htm
University of Western Australia. "Western Australia's incredible underground orchid." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2011/02/110208101337.htm (accessed July 24, 2014).

Share This




More Plants & Animals News

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

Dogs Appear To Become Jealous Of Owners' Attention

Dogs Appear To Become Jealous Of Owners' Attention

Newsy (July 23, 2014) A U.C. San Diego researcher says jealousy isn't just a human trait, and dogs aren't the best at sharing the attention of humans with other dogs. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
Professor Creates Site Revealing Where People's Cats Live

Professor Creates Site Revealing Where People's Cats Live

Newsy (July 23, 2014) ​It's called I Know Where Your Cat Lives, and you can keep hitting the "Random Cat" button to find more real cats all over the world. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
Stone Fruit Listeria Scare Causes Sweeping Recall

Stone Fruit Listeria Scare Causes Sweeping Recall

Newsy (July 22, 2014) The Wawona Packing Company has issued a voluntary recall on the stone fruit it distributes due to a possible Listeria outbreak. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
Michigan Plant's Goal: Flower and Die

Michigan Plant's Goal: Flower and Die

AP (July 22, 2014) An 80-year-old agave plant, which is blooming for the first and only time at a University of Michigan conservatory, will die when it's done (July 22) Video provided by AP
Powered by NewsLook.com

Search ScienceDaily

Number of stories in archives: 140,361

Find with keyword(s):
Enter a keyword or phrase to search ScienceDaily for related topics and research stories.

Save/Print:
Share:

Breaking News:
from the past week

In Other News

... from NewsDaily.com

Science News

Health News

Environment News

Technology News



Save/Print:
Share:

Free Subscriptions


Get the latest science news with ScienceDaily's free email newsletters, updated daily and weekly. Or view hourly updated newsfeeds in your RSS reader:

Get Social & Mobile


Keep up to date with the latest news from ScienceDaily via social networks and mobile apps:

Have Feedback?


Tell us what you think of ScienceDaily -- we welcome both positive and negative comments. Have any problems using the site? Questions?
Mobile: iPhone Android Web
Follow: Facebook Twitter Google+
Subscribe: RSS Feeds Email Newsletters
Latest Headlines Health & Medicine Mind & Brain Space & Time Matter & Energy Computers & Math Plants & Animals Earth & Climate Fossils & Ruins