Ready for the high seas?

Seagrass is the quiet achiever. The bundles of foliage often found washed up on beaches come from one of the most productive members of the plant kingdom. The long, narrow, ribbon-like leaves provide food and shelter for marine animals and mitigate coastal erosion and greenhouse gas emissions by cushioning the impact of sea waves while capturing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.

Carlos Duarte and colleagues at the KAUST Red Sea Research Center have sequenced and analyzed the genome of Zostera marina, a widespread genus of seagrass found in temperate waters of the northern hemisphere. Their results show that seagrass ancestors underwent several major evolutionary changes before they migrated from shallow ponds back into deep seas.

The work is significant because the seagrass genome is the first marine flowering plant ever to be sequenced.

“It took us more than seven years to disentangle the evolutionary code contained in the genome,” said Duarte. The findings have important implications for a range of pressing issues, including food security, climate change and marine conservation.

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