The largest plant in the world is three times the size of the island of Manhattan. Photo Rachel Austin / University of Western Australia (UWA) / EFE
A group of scientists harvesting plants in the waters off Western Australia for a restoration project a shocking discovery: a marine organism of approx 200 square kilometers and about 4,500 years.
“It left us speechless,” acknowledged Jane Edgeloe, leader of this research published in the scientific journal Proceedings of the Royal Society B, in a UWA statement, where she conducts doctoral studies.
In the midst of their work, and through the use of genetic study tools, the researchers discovered this 18,000 markers collected at Shark Bay belonged to a single specimenwhich had an area three times the size of the island of Manhattan.
“The existing 200 square kilometers of seagrass beds appear to have expanded from a single colonization facility,” Edgeloe told EFE news agency.
This huge plant is a species of “Posidonia australis” seagrass, also known as fiber grass or ribbon grass, common in the waters off South Australia.
Despite the harsh conditions of Shark Bay due to abundant light, low nutrient levels, wide temperature fluctuations and high salinity, this plant managed to survive for centuries.
This specimen, which grows about 35 centimeters per year, it would be about 4,500 years oldaccording to the study, which also included scientists from Flinders University.
Scientists suspect that the huge specimen, which has withstood temperatures between 17 and 30 degrees and various levels of salinity, has a small number of mutations that help it persist in local conditions, they noted in The Conversation.
The seaweed beds that exist in Shark Bay formed in shallow water creating and capturing sediments, making the water saltier, after the sand dunes of this heritage area were flooded more than 8,500 years ago.
To date, the Pando clonal colony in the state of Utah was considered the largest known organism in the world, connecting 47,000 genetically identical poplars through their roots across 43 hectares.
The largest plant, with double the number of chromosomes
In addition to its enormous size, the kilometer-long plant discovered in Australia is distinguished from other herbs of the same family by being polyploid, that is it has twice the chromosomes of its oceanic relatives. This was explained by biologist Elizabeth Sinclair, an evolution expert at UWA and co-author of the study.
Polyploid plants, a genetic trait this seagrass shares with potatoes and bananas, tend to reside in places with extreme environmental conditions and are often sterile, although they can continue to grow as this specimen did.
“Even without flowering or seed production, it appears to be really hardy, as (this seagrass) experiences a wide range of temperatures and salinities, as well as extremely high light conditions, which together would typically be very stressful for most people. “. plants, “Sinclair said in the scientific journal The Conversation.