Welwitschia genome, what does it bring to the future?
Welwitschia mirabilis, a plant that belongs to the gnetophyte lineage, has recently been studied and published by Tao Wan, Zhiming Liu, Ilia J. Leitch, Haiping Xin, Gillian Maggs-Kölling, Yanbing Gong, Zhen Li, Eugene Marais, Yiying Liao, Can Dai, Fan Liu, Qijia Wu, Chi Song, Yadong Zhou, Weichang Huang, Kai Jiang, Qi Wang, Yong Yang, Zhixiang Zhong, Ming Yang, Xue Yan, Guangwan Hu, Chen Hou, Yingjuan Su, Shixiu Feng, Ji Yang, Jijun Yan, Jinfang Chu, Fan Chen, Jinhua Ran, Xiaoquan Wang, Yves Van de Peer, Andrew R. Leitch & Qingfeng Wang in Nature Communications, during these studies, the unique biology of the plant was discovered, the plant has been stated to live for thousands of years, is considered a living fossil, in extreme environmental conditions, native to the Namibia desert, the plant duplicated genes as well as a signature gene coding going under the project number PRJNA680422 in NCBI.
The duplication of genes in the plant allows the duplicates to take different tasks that are not their original functions, which would be impossible if there was only one version of the gene, as well as activate proteins that allow the plant to survive in arid areas and extreme conditions, despite its slow-growing.
Unlike other plants, Welwitschia mirabilis during its evolution has gained various characteristics to adapt to the extreme conditions of its habitat, in between them, CAM photosynthesis (Crassulacean Acid Metabolism), an event observed usually in Cacti, Succulents, and the Crassulaceae family, unlike the C3 and C4 plants, CAM plants conserve water by opening their stomata and admitting CO2 during the night. When the CO2 is diffused to the mesophyll intracellular space it’s fixed into malic acid by a PEP reaction similar to the C4 plants, however, unlike the C4 plants, the resulting organic acids are stored in vacuoles for later usage. During the day the stomata close to conserve water, its carbon dioxide-storing organic acids are released from the vacuoles of the mesophyll cells into the Calvin cycle. This action allows CAM plants to do photosynthesis throughout the day even with their stomata closed. According to George Lindsay, Pacific Discovery Vol. 35, 1982, Welwitschia species also absorb moisture from dense fog formed in the Namib Desert caused by condensation, as the desert receives little to no rain, making Welwitschia such a remarkable species in their resistance to extreme temperatures.
This unusual genetic code and CAM photosynthesis have allowed Welwitschia mirabilis to have specific characteristics such as the woody caudex above the ground, a taproot similar to the taproot found in Lophophora and Ariocarpus species. The woody stem rising two strap-shaped leaves that can be as long as two meters in length, and grass leaves characteristic, the meristematic region is at the plant’s base and grows continually even if the tips of the leaf get worn off by heat damage. However, Welwitschia’s characteristics weren’t the only fascinating thing being found during the recent discovery, the genetic coding of the plant can open the horizon for various new plant experiments, and the collected Genome from Welwitschia can become part of new discoveries in Plant culture tissue via CRISPR.
As global warming accentuates, and various Icebergs are melting, the climate is changing globally, several species have been affected and becoming extinct, various geological territories have also been affected, arid continents like Africa which have been suffering from drought and degraded soils for years might come across the impossibility of agriculture in a few years from now. With the discovery of the genomes causing the “immortality” of Welwitschia new doors are open, arid countries will be able to augment the resistance to extreme weather in their crops, there will be further resistance in the already existent crops where agriculture is abundant as well as an improvement of home agriculture, as non-experienced growers can grow their own supplies easier and protect their home crops from possible drought and overwatering. Bringing further opportunities for home growers of ethnobotanicals such as Salvia Divinorum, considered troublesome to grow amongst psychedelic societies due to root rot or excess of humidity, the overwatering of cacti such as Lophophora species, as overcoming extinction of endangered species.
Gathering the genetic code found in Welwitschia presents a general bettering towards cultivation and home cultivation of various species indicating a way to prevent the extinction of plants towards Philip K.Dick’s dystopian apocalyptic vision.
Jürgens, N., Oncken, I., Oldeland, J., Gunter, F., & Rudolph, B. (2021). Welwitschia: Phylogeography of a living fossil, diversified within a desert refuge. Scientific Reports, 11(1). doi:10.1038/s41598–021–81150–6
Tao Wan, Zhiming Liu, Ilia J. Leitch, Haiping Xin, Gillian Maggs-Kölling, Yanbing Gong, Zhen Li, Eugene Marais, Yiying Liao, Can Dai, Fan Liu, Qijia Wu, Chi Song, Yadong Zhou, Weichang Huang, Kai Jiang, Qi Wang, Yong Yang, Zhixiang Zhong, Ming Yang, Xue Yan, Guangwan Hu, Chen Hou, Yingjuan Su, Shixiu Feng, Ji Yang, Jijun Yan, Jinfang Chu, Fan Chen, Jinhua Ran, Xiaoquan Wang, Yves Van de Peer, Andrew R. Leitch & Qingfeng Wang: The Welwitschia genome reveals a unique biology underpinning extreme longevity in deserts. doi.org/10.1038/s41467–021–24528–4
K.S. Stern (Introductory Plant Biology, 1997)
George Lindsay (Pacific Discovery Vol. 35, 1982)