The plant that borders on immortality

This species was first officially described in 1863. Since then, it has sparked controversy. It is able to withstand harsh living conditions for thousands of years. And a genetic analysis published in Nature communication brings news to it. The plant that borders on immortality amazes us again and again.

The plant that borders on immortality, the Welwitschia.
The plant that borders on immortality, the Welwitschia.
Adaptive genetics

The plant can activate certain proteins to protect itself from extreme conditions. The Welwitschia inhabit the northwestern part of Namibia and southwestern Angola. They are desert areas. The annual rainfall is less than five cubic centimeters. Its shape is also very characteristic. It only has two leaves that can grow anywhere from four to eight inches each year. As they grow, the ends of the leaves crumble and curl up. This gives it an octopus-like appearance.

You have all of your genes duplicated in what experts call “genetic redundancy”. Andrew Leitch is a researcher at Queen Mary University of London. Explain the plant’s genetic advantage. “Duplicates can take on new functions and do new things. It would be impossible if there was only one version of the gene. Such adaptations have driven the evolution of plants ”. For example, the leaves absorb moisture from the morning mist.

The origin of this doubling is around 86 million years ago. It was caused by extreme environmental conditions (temperature, ultraviolet radiation, salinity). The plant that borders on immortality has learned to adapt its genes.

This hardy plant astonishes the researchers again and again.
This hardy plant astonishes the researchers again and again.
The one who can’t die

In contrast to the other plants, Welwitschia does not grow at the leaf ends. With this species its base grows. This area is heavily protected by two lips of firewood, which are responsible for covering the basal meristem: the part that supplies the new cells. This type of onion is practically made up of embryonic tissue. As long as this onion is alive, the plant never stops growing. Its name in Afrikaans is Two bubbles cannot die. What does it mean? “Two leaves that cannot die.”

Some specimens have been analyzed using the carbon-14 test, which is used to date fossil remains. Some people were over 1,500 years old.

Leitch believes this discovery could be key to the survival of our own species. “We can identify genes that enable us to survive in hostile conditions. It will be useful as we try to cultivate in increasingly marginal areas of the planet. Soon we will be feeding 9,000 million people who we will be in 50 years. All of this against the background of climate change and changes in precipitation and temperatures, ”he assures.

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