Scientists in China have uncovered the genetic blueprint of an orchid, increasing the understanding of how this plant has colonised so widely around the world.
Around 10 per cent of flowering plant species are orchids, with a broad diversity in both morphology and lifestyle.
The Apostasioideae are a small subfamily of orchids that includes only two genera (Apostasia and Neuwiedia), consisting of terrestrial species confined to the humid areas of south-east Asia, Japan, and northern Australia.
Apostasia is one of the earliest-diverging genera of Orchidaceae. To study the evolution and diversity of Orchidaceae, Zhong-Jian Liu, Yves Van de Peer and colleagues sequenced the genome of Apostasia shenzhenica, a self-pollinating species found in south-east China.
The authors’ analyses published in Nature provide insights into orchid origins, genome evolution, adaptation and diversification – uncovering to a degree the secret of the orchid’s success in the wild colonising so many varied habitats, and revealing that elements of the blueprint appeared at the start of the orchid family evolution.