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ScienceShot: Short Plants Are Evolutionary Sprinters

In the evolutionary race, tiny plants are speedier than their towering cousins. A new comparison of the genomes of 138 families of species with heights ranging from 5 centimeters to about 45 meters reveals that the DNA of shorter plants, such as tomato plants, mutates faster than taller plants, such as most trees. One short-in-stature herbal plant family called Tropaeolaceae (left) mutated almost 10 times as fast as a closely related family of trees called Akaniaceae (right), the team reports today in Nature Communications. The researchers suggest that shorter plants may mutate faster because they typically copy their genomes more frequently. The more a plant copies its genome, the more mistakes it makes. If correct, that could mean tall, slower-growing plants such as trees are in greater danger from the rapidly changing climate than their smaller relatives, because the greater rate of mutation gives shorter plants more opportunities to adapt.

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