World’s largest factory discovered in Australia

World’s largest factory discovered in Australia

The sprawling seagrass, a marine flowering plant known as Posidonia australis, stretches for more than 180 kilometers in Shark Bay, a wilderness area protected as a World Heritage Site, said researcher Elizabeth Sinclair. principal at the School of Biology. University of Western Australia Institute of Science and Oceans.

That’s roughly the distance between San Diego and Los Angeles.

The plant is so tall because it clones itself, creating genetically identical offshoots. This process is a rare mode of reproduction in the animal kingdom although it does occur under certain environmental conditions and occurs more often in certain plants, fungi, and bacteria.

“We are often asked how many different plants grow in a seagrass. Here, we used genetic tools to answer them,” said Sinclair, the author of a seagrass study published Tuesday evening in the journal Proceedings of the Royal Society B. .

“The answer definitely surprised us – just ONE! That’s it, a single factory stretched 180 km in Shark Bay, making it the largest known factory on Earth,” she said per E-mail.

An aerial image of Shark Bay, including the seagrass beds, which appear as dark specks in the water.

Sinclair and his colleagues collected samples from 10 locations within the Shark Bay seagrass prairie range in 2012 and 2019. The research team also measured environmental conditions including depth, temperature water and salinity.

“We’ve been studying cold-water seagrasses in southern Australia for some time, to understand how genetically diverse they are and how connected the grasslands are,” Sinclair said.

The scientists were able to sequence the DNA of the seagrass samples, which revealed that it was a single plant.

“The plant was able to continue to grow through vegetative growth—spreading its rhizomes (root stems) outward—like buffalo grass would in your back garden, spreading the runners outward. The only difference is that the seagrass rhizomes are under a sandy seabed so you can’t see them, just the shoots in the water column,” she said.

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“What was even more interesting is that it has double the number of chromosomes than in other populations we had studied. It has 40, not the usual 20,” she added.

Seagrasses inhabit sea coasts and estuaries around the world.

The study suggested that reproduction by cloning helped the herbarium to adapt to habitat conditions which were more extreme than where seagrasses are usually found – saltier water, high light levels and large temperature fluctuations.

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The seagrass prairie covered nearly 200 square kilometers (77 square miles or 49,000 acres), Sinclair said — larger than Brooklyn. This is a much larger area than the trembling aspens of Pando in Utah, which are often described as the tallest plant in the world. The clone spans 106 acres, made up of more than 40,000 individual trees, according to the USDA Forest Service.
At around 4,500 years old, the seagrass beds at Shark Bay are ancient, but not record-breaking in age, the researchers said. A Posidonia oceanica plant discovered in the western Mediterranean that extends up to 9.3 miles (15 kilometers) may be over 100,000 years old.

“Individual seagrass clones can persist almost indefinitely if left undisturbed, because they rely on vegetative and horizontal expansion of rhizomes, rather than sexual reproduction,” Sinclair said.

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