Two different stories only six days apart, about the sudden origin of the Angiosperms (flowering plants), which was Darwin's "abominable mystery":
"The rapid development as far as we can judge of all the higher plants within recent geological times is an abominable mystery." (Darwin, C.R., Letter to J.D. Hooker, July 22nd 1879, in Darwin F. & Seward A.C., eds., "More Letters of Charles Darwin: A Record of His Work in a Series of Hitherto Unpublished Papers," John Murray: London, 1903, Vol. II, pp.20-21).]
[Graphic: The yellow water lily (Nuphar advena), Yi Hu, Penn State.]
Massive duplication of genes may solve Darwin's 'abominable mystery' about flowering plants, EurekAlert, 11-May-2006, Barbara K. Kennedy, Penn State ... [Also at ScienceDaily & PhysOrg.com.] The yellow water lily (Nuphar advena) shows evidence of an ancient genome duplication that may have been a key event in the evolution of flowering plants. Researchers from the Floral Genome Project at Penn State University, with an international team of collaborators, have proposed an answer to Charles Darwin's "abominable mystery": the inexplicably rapid evolution of flowering plants immediately after their first appearance some 140 million years ago. [If the origin of the angiosperms (a plant division - Anthophyta - equivalent to an animal phylum):
"Classification of Plants Plant biologists use the term division for the major plant groups within the plant kingdom. This taxonomic category corresponds to phylum, the highest unit of classification within the animal kingdom. Divisions, like phyla, are further subdivided into classes, orders, families, and genera ... Angiosperms: Division Anthophyta: Flowering plants" (Campbell, N.A., Reece, J.B. & Mitchell, L.G., "Biology," , Benjamin/Cummings: Menlo Park CA, Fifth Edition, 1999, pp.549-550. Emphasis original)
one of the "four major periods of plant evolution":
"The fossil record chronicles four major periods of plant evolution, which are also evident in the diversity of modern plants ... Each period was an adaptive radiation that followed the evolution of structures that opened new opportunities on the land ... The fourth major episode in the evolutionary history of plants was the emergence of flowering plants during the early Cretaceous period in the Mesozoic era, about 130 million years ago. The flower is a complex reproductive structure that bears seeds within protective chambers called ovaries. This contrasts with the bearing of naked seeds by gymnosperms. The great majority of modern-day plants are flowering plants, or angiosperms (Gr. angion, `container,' referring to the ovary, and sperma, `seed')." (Campbell, et al., 1999, p.548. Emphasis original)
arose as the result of a "Massive duplication of genes," then it would not "solve Darwin's 'abominable mystery' about flowering plants" - it would confirm it! And indeed, falsify Darwin's theory (as a general theory), since: 1) this was a major new chapter in life's history; 2) which did not arise "by accumulating slight, successive, favourable variations" but by a "great or sudden modification":
"As natural selection acts solely by accumulating slight, successive, favourable variations, it can produce no great or sudden modifications; it can act only by short and slow steps. Hence the canon of `Natura non facit saltum,' [nature does not make leaps] which every fresh addition to our knowledge tends to confirm, is on this theory intelligible." (Darwin, C.R., "The Origin of Species By Means of Natural Selection," 1872, Sixth Edition, Senate: London, 1994, pp.413-414. Parenthesis mine)]
By developing new statistical methods to analyze incomplete DNA sequences from thirteen strategically selected plant species, the researchers uncovered a previously hidden "paleopolyploidy" [i.e. ancient polyploidy] event, an ancient whole-genome duplication that preceded the appearance of the ancestral flowering plant. The results will appear in the June issue of Genome Research. Claude dePamphilis, associate professor of biology at Penn State, is the principal investigator of the Floral Genome Project and the senior author of the paper. "We found a concentration of duplicated genes that suggests a whole-genome duplication event in the earliest flowering plants," he says. "A polyploidy event early in the history of flowering plants could explain their sudden evolution." ... [This may not be completely new. I remember doing a genetics assignment on polyploidy (i.e. the duplication of an entire genome) in 2002, and in at least one of the journal articles I drew upon said that the reason there is so much polyploidy in angiosperm species (~70%) is probably because of ancestral polyploid events.
But while polyploidy has been an important factor in generating new species of plants (it is comparatively rare in animals for several reasons), despite an entire genome being duplicated, the resulting new species is still within the same genus. Harvard botanist and Neo-Darwinism co-founder G. Ledyard Stebbins pointed out that "polyploidy has contributed little to progressive evolution":
"Polyploidy is a very common method of evolution in higher plants. Between one-fourth and one-third of the species of flowering plants are polyploid with reference to their nearest relatives. Familiar examples among crop plants are wheat, oats, potato, tobacco, cotton, alfalfa, and most species of pasture grasses. Familiar weeds and wild flowers which are polyploid are the eastern blue flag (Iris versicolor), meadow rue (Thalictrum spp.), some species of wild rose, chickweed (Stellaria media), miner's lettuce (Montia perfoliata), yarrow (Achillea spp.), and various species of violets and asters. Furthermore, there is evidence that polyploidy in the remote past has given rise to many genera and groups of genera such as the apples, olives, willows, poplars, and many genera of ferns. Nevertheless, polyploidy has contributed little to progressive evolution. In genera which contain both diploids and polyploids, the major trends of evolution are all represented by diploid species, and the polyploids serve merely to multiply the variations on certain particular adaptive `themes.' This is probably because the large amount of gene duplication dilutes the effects of new mutations and gene combinations to such an extent that polyploids have great difficulty evolving truly new adaptive gene complexes." (Stebbins, G.L., "Processes of Organic Evolution," Prentice-Hall: Englewood Cliffs NJ, 1966, Second printing, p.129)]
The reason is that two genomes (like two copies of the same edition of a book or newspaper) don't have any new information. It would take a very special (to put it mildly) duplication event to produce a new phylum!
South Pacific plant may be missing link in evolution of flowering plants: Novel reproductive process may point to ancestors of angiosperms, says University of Colorado study, EurekAlert!, 17-May-2006, Ned Friedman ...
[Graphic: Amborella leaves, University of Colorado, Boulder.]
A new University of Colorado at Boulder study involving a "living fossil plant" that has survived on Earth for 130 million years suggests its novel reproductive structure may be a "missing link" between flowering plants and their ancestors. The Amborella plant, found in the rain forests of New Caledonia in the South Pacific [It is significant that this plant occurs only in New Caledonia, because that island "is a fragment of the ancient continent of Gondwana."] has a unique way of forming eggs that may represent a critical link between the remarkably diverse flowering plants, known as angiosperms, and their yet to be identified extinct ancestors, said CU-Boulder Professor William "Ned" Friedman. Angiosperms are thought to have diverged from gymnosperms -- the dominant land plants when dinosaurs reigned in the Cretaceous and Jurassic periods -- roughly 130 million years ago and have become the dominant plants on Earth today. "One of the biggest challenges for evolutionary biologists is understanding how these flowering plants arose on Earth," said Friedman, a professor in CU-Boulder's ecology and evolutionary biology department, whose study appears in the May 18 issue of Nature. "The study shows that the structure that houses the egg in Amborella is different from every other flowering plant known, and may be the potential missing link between flowering plants and their progenitors."... [No doubt this is a `vestigial organ' (Amborella is itself an angiosperm) and therefore further evidence that angiosperms arose from gymnosperms (non-flowering seed plants like conifers), which I accept. But as Friedman correctly observed, below, that that does not change the fact that "The mystery remains abominable":
Ancient shrub unlocks a clue to Darwin's 'abominable mystery'. Christian Science Monitor, May 18, 2006, Peter N. Spotts ... To millions of moms, the Mother's Day bouquet still gracing the dining room table symbolizes gratitude and love. To Charles Darwin, however, they also would stand as colorful characters in what he called an "abominable mystery" - the origin of flowering plants. "It's no different now," sighs biologist William Friedman. The mystery remains abominable. .... [The reason is that, as would be expected in a new phylum, angiosperms have many "unique characteristics" that gynosperms lack, including "flowers, closed carpels, double fertilization ... and ... sieve tubes and companion cells in the phloem":
"The unique characteristics of the angiosperms include flowers, closed carpels, double fertilization leading to endosperm formation, a three-nucleate microgametophyte and an eight-nucleate megagametophyte, stamens with two pairs of pollen sacs, and the presence of sieve tubes and companion cells in the phloem ... . These similarities clearly indicate that the members of this phylum were derived from a single common ancestor. This common ancestor of the angiosperms ultimately would have been derived from a seed plant that lacked flowers, closed carpels, and fruits. The earliest known, clearly identifiable fossils of angiosperms are flowers and pollen grains up to 130 million years old, from the Early Cretaceous period ... . There are intriguing suggestions that much older fossils-up to 200 million years old-may have had some, but perhaps not all, of the characteristic features of angiosperms. Currently the interpretation of these fossils is enigmatic, and it appears most likely that the phylum did in fact originate in the Early Cretaceous (or perhaps uppermost Jurassic) period." (Raven, P.H., Evert, R.F. & Eichhorn, S.E., "Biology of Plants," , W.H. Freeman and Co/Worth Publishers: New York NY, Sixth Edition, 1999, p.519)
For all these to arise from one "Massive duplication of genes" would be indistinguishable from a miracle (which I expect it was)!]