- Title: Plant report reveals new discoveries and climate survivors
- Date: 18th May 2017
- Summary: CLOSE OF MACHINE THAT SEQUENCES PART OF PLANT DNA
- Embargoed: 1st June 2017 10:42
- Keywords: botany DNA plants Kew Gardens RBG Royal Botanic Gardens
- Location: LONDON, ENGLAND, UK / UNIDENTIFIED LOCATION
- City: LONDON, ENGLAND, UK / UNIDENTIFIED LOCATION
- Country: United Kingdom
- Topics: Life Sciences,Science
- Reuters ID: LVA0036HD8EHN
- Aspect Ratio: 16:9
- Story Text:The spread of pests and pathogens that damage plant life could cost global agriculture $540 billion a year, according to a report published on Thursday (May 18).
The report, released by the Royal Botanic Gardens (RBG) at Kew in London, said that an increase in international trade and travel had left flora facing rising threats from invasive pests and pathogens, and called for greater biosecurity measures.
"Plants underpin all aspects of life on Earth from the air we breathe right through to our food, our crops, our medicines," said Professor Kathy Willis, RBG Kew's director of science.
"If you take one away, what happens to the rest of that ecosystem - how does it impact?"
Wildfires account for the destruction of about 340 million hectares of the earth's vegetative surface annually, while the felling of tropical trees for human habitat is putting further strain on plant survival.
"We are describing new species from areas where forest has already disappeared," said Tim Utteridge, head of identification at Kew. "What we're now concerned about is what will be left. What would the community of plants look like? Will we have that diversity? Or will it be just a few common species that can survive in really degraded habitats?"
Researchers also examined the traits that would determine which plant species would cope in a world feeling the effects of climate change.
Plants with deeper roots and higher wood density are better able to withstand drought, while thicker leaves and taller grasses can cope with higher temperatures, the report found.
Surprisingly, researchers also found that the traits that are likely to help species thrive appear to be transferable across different environments.
The number of plants with assembled whole genomes has risen by 60 percent in the last year thanks to advances in DNA sequencing. Knowing the genetic make-up of certain plants - such as the Madagascan Periwinkle - is helping scientists develop new medicines.
"It contains two very important chemicals that are widely used in cancer treatment, vinblastine and vincristine," explained Kew's senior research leader Dr. Ilia Leitch. "By having all the DNA sequence of its genome will enable scientists to work out the more complete understanding of the pathway that leads to the synthesis of these chemicals for enabling and enhancing future studies using these drugs."
In total, 28,187 plant species are recorded with a medicinal use, the report says.
The report, which involved 128 scientists in 12 countries, found that 1,730 new plant species had been discovered in the past year.
Nine new species of the climbing vine Mucuna, used in the treatment of Parkinson's disease, were found and named across South East Asia and South and Central America.
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