Australian scientists discover 'largest plant on Earth'

Australian scientists discover 'largest plant on Earth'

4,500-year-old plant stretches across 180 km (112 mi), say researchers

News Service AA

Australian scientists have claimed that they have discovered what is believed to be the largest plant on Earth.

"Researchers from the University of Western Australia (UWA) and Flinders University have located what is believed to be the largest plant in the world – an ancient and incredibly resilient seagrass stretching across 180 km (112 miles) that is estimated to be at least 4,500 years old," the university said in a statement on Wednesday.

The plant discovered off the coast of Western Australia is a single clone of Posidonia Australis seagrass, according to a detailed new study published in the biological research journal Proceedings B of the Royal Society.

Elizabeth Sinclair, an evolutionary biologist at the UWA’s School of Biological Sciences, said the project started when their researchers wanted to understand how genetically diverse the seagrass meadows in Shark Bay were, and which plants should be collected for seagrass restoration.

“We often get asked how many different plants are growing in seagrass meadows and this time we used genetic tools to answer it,” said Sinclair.

UWA student researcher Jane Edgeloe, the lead author of the study, said the team sampled seagrass shoots from across Shark Bay’s variable environments and generated a “fingerprint” using 18,000 genetic markers.

“The answer blew us away – there was just one. That’s it, just one plant has expanded over 180km in Shark Bay, making it the largest known plant on earth,” said Edgeloe.

“The existing 200 square kilometers (124 square miles) of ribbon weed meadows appear to have expanded from a single, colonising seedling,” it added.

According to the university statement, the researchers are now setting up a series of experiments in Shark Bay to understand how this plant survives and thrives under such variable conditions.


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