A gap in the theory of evolution. The mystery of the origin of angiosperms that baffled Darwin

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A gap in the theory of evolution. The mystery of the origin of angiosperms that baffled Darwin
A gap in the theory of evolution. The mystery of the origin of angiosperms that baffled Darwin

Darwin experienced a whole range of negative emotions when he looked at a bouquet of flowers, the authors of Sasapost fantasize. But the truth is, the mystery of flowering plants destroyed the whole theory of evolution and oppressed its author until the last days. Until now, this mystery is called "the disgusting mystery of Darwin." What plants puzzled the British naturalist?

Ancient Greek myths say that Achilles, despite all his courage and strength, had a fatal weakness - the heel. Today we learn about the "Achilles heel" of Charles Darwin's theory of evolution.

In the late 19th century, British naturalist Charles Robert Darwin formulated the theory of human evolution and provided the scientific community with information that is still being studied and researched by scientists.

But this scientist, who devoted his life to the origin of species, experienced a whole range of negative emotions when he looked at a bouquet of flowers. The mystery of flowering plants oppressed him until his last days.

He looked at her as if she were too insignificant to be a problem for a person who was able to trace human evolution through fossils. However, he was never able to trace the evolution of flowering plants as the evolution of man, which was a gap in his theory. Until now, this problem is called "the hideous mystery of Darwin." What plants puzzled Darwin and scientists after him?

They provided us with food and clothing, but how did they come to be on Earth?

For the first time the term "hideous secret" Charles Darwin used in 1879 in a letter to his friend, researcher and botanist Joseph Hooker. In it, he wrote that the rapid development of higher plant species in geological terms is a terrible secret.

It is no secret that we are talking about the appearance of angiosperms or flowering plants (Magnoliophyta) - a division of higher plants, a distinctive feature of which is the presence of a flower as an organ of sexual reproduction. This department is considered the most numerous of all the departments in the plant kingdom. Moreover, many flowering plants are a source of food, medicine and clothing.

Cotton, flax, tomatoes and alfalfa are representatives of the Angiosperms department. It is also important to note that this department includes the vast majority of all known plants: from oak to wildflowers and water lilies.

By geological standards, angiosperms appeared not so long ago. Nevertheless, they quickly spread throughout the planet and took a dominant position. At that time, scientists had not yet found plant fossils from which angiosperms could develop, so their sudden appearance became a mystery that Darwin was trying to solve.

Darwin was worried about how flowering plants conquered the world “in the blink of an eye”. Thanks to the theory of evolution, he was able to substantiate how the diversity that we observe today gradually developed from the simplest species. But the question that puzzled Darwin and still puzzles many botanists is: why did the evolutionary changes in angiosperms not occur gradually?

In the summer of 1881, Darwin wrote to his scientist friend: "For me, there is nothing more extraordinary in the history of the plant kingdom than the unexpected and rapid development of higher plants."

Angiosperms - Achilles' heel of Darwin's evolutionary theory

In 1859, Darwin published The Origin of Species by Natural Selection, or the Conservation of Favored Breeds in the Struggle for Life.In it, he presented his theory of the evolution of the living world, according to which all living organisms, including humans, descended from one common ancestor.

Darwin's work caused great indignation in religious circles, and he himself was subjected to various attacks and ridicule. It should also be noted that despite all the collected evidence about the evolution of organisms, his theory remained an Achilles heel - the emergence and development of angiosperms. A gap in Darwin's theory has caused criticism from the scientific community.

In 1876, Scottish botanist William Carruthers, then widely known in the scientific community, at a lecture for the Association of Geologists, drew attention to a gap in the theory of evolution, mentioned in the book "The Origin of Species", which was then spoken about by the entire scientific community.

Carruthers highlighted Darwin's problems with the fossil record, focusing on the sudden appearance of flowering or angiosperms. His comments were published in The Times and in the scientific press, which sparked public debate.

For Darwin and his evolutionary proponents, this was a "curse" mainly because Carruthers tried to explain the fossil record from a religious point of view, as opposed to Darwin, who separated his theory from religion.

“It really was a 'hideous mystery' that occupied his mind in the last days of his life,” biologist Richard Baggs told the BBC in early 2021. He confirmed that even now, almost 150 years later, this "mystery" still baffles scientists.

An explanation or a new riddle?

Many researchers have tried to solve Darwin's "hideous mystery". In 2019, scientists concluded that the main reason for the spread and dominance of angiosperms is their ability to change the size of their genome. In angiosperms, the genome size is smaller than the cell size, but it retains all the characteristics of the plant necessary for life.

By reducing the size of the genome contained in the nucleus of the cell, plants were able to establish photosynthesis - the process of converting carbon dioxide and water into glucose and oxygen using the energy of sunlight. The appearance of a branched network of veins in the leaves allowed them to quickly remove the products of photosynthesis, which contributed to the spread and dominance of angiosperms in the world. Scientists presented "compelling" evidence and considered it the final answer to the question: "Why did angiosperms spread so quickly on the planet?"

But this raises a new question: how did angiosperms reduce the size of their genome?

Other attempts

The study, published in early 2021 in the scientific journal Nature Ecology & Evolution, talks about analyzing plant fossils using the latest methods. According to the authors of the study, angiosperms appeared in the Cretaceous and Jurassic periods, but their fossils have not survived to this day, or at that time there were quite a few of these plants.

Daniele Silvestro, lead author of the study, says that at first gymnosperms were dominant, and angiosperms grew in small numbers, but in later periods they assumed their dominant position.

But the study did not answer the question of how genome size changed, allowing angiosperms to become the dominant form of plant life on the planet. Today, angiosperms make up about 90% of all plant species, including most cultivated plants!

“We do not expect this study to end the angiosperm controversy, but it is at least a step towards solving this mystery,” said study co-author Professor Philip Donoghue of the University of Bristol in the UK.

The authors of the study, published in May 2021, claim to have analyzed well-preserved fossils of Cretaceous plants found in China.These 125 million-year-old fossils are bowl-shaped structures surrounded by seeds. Scientists have suggested that these cupped plants are possible ancestors of the angiosperms, but later another study appeared that refuted this assumption.

The second study says that the described plants and their fossils existed at the same time as the angiosperms, so they could not have descended from them, and could be "cousins" at best.

Until now, this "disgusting mystery" baffles many scientists. And every time they find the answer to one question, many others appear in its place. Opponents of the theory of evolution insist that one cannot ignore the "hideous secret" that Darwin mentioned in his work "The Origin of Species by Natural Selection, or the Conservation of Favored Breeds in the Struggle for Life." Nobody knows what science will discover in the future, but people want to know where did those plants come from that provide us with food, clothing and medicine?

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