24/7 Space News
The oldest and fastest evolving moss in the world might not survive climate change
The living fossil Takakia lepidozioides, a rare moss, has adapted to life-threatening UV-B radiation and extreme cold on the Tibetan Plateau. After nearly 400 million years of evolution and resilience, this species is now facing extinction due to rapid climate change.
The oldest and fastest evolving moss in the world might not survive climate change
by Staff Writers
Washington DC (SPX) Aug 11, 2023

A 390-million-year-old moss called Takakia lives in some of Earth's most remote places, including the icy cliffs of the Tibetan Plateau. In a decade-long project, a team of scientists climbed some of the tallest peaks in the world to find Takakia, sequence its DNA for the first time, and study how climate change is impacting the moss. Their results, publishing in Cell on August 9, show that Takakia is one of the fastest evolving species ever studied-but it likely isn't evolving fast enough to survive climate change.

Takakia is a tiny, slow-growing moss that can only be found in small patches in the Tibetan Plateau, as well as in the countries of Japan and the US. The researchers undertook 18 expeditions to reach the moss's 4,000-meter-high home in the Himalayas, collect samples, and study its habitat. "We set out to describe and analyze a living fossil," says author Ralf Reski (@ReskiLab), a plant biotechnologist at the University of Freiburg in Germany.

"In the Himalayas, you can experience four seasons within a day," adds plant biologist and co-expedition leader Ruoyang Hu, a member of the team from Capital Normal University in China. "At the foot of the mountain, it is sunny and clear. When you get to the halfway point, there is always a light rain-it feels like you're walking in a cloud. And when you get to the top, it snows and it's very cold."

"Only half of the road is accessible by drive. We had to climb up the remaining way," says co-expedition leader and fellow plant biologist at Capital Normal University, Xuedong Li. "We also had to be cautious and vigilant to stay safe at this altitude. Three students got high-altitude sickness in our decade's research. Thanks to our Tibetan guides, we transferred them to a lower altitude in time to get them medical care."

Takakia was already 100 million years old when the Himalayas rose up underneath it, altering its habitat dramatically and forcing it to adapt quickly-which it did. "The idea was to go as deep as possible into the history of the first land plants to see what they can tell us about evolution," says Reski. "We found that Takakia is currently the genome with the highest number of fast-evolving genes. It's very active on the genetic level."

The team found that Takakia's extensive genome evolved over generations of selection to excel at fixing broken DNA and recovering from UV damage, among other things. "Takakia plants are covered with heavy snow for eight months each year, and then are subjected to high-intensity ultraviolet radiation during the 4-month light period," says Yikun He, author and fellow plant biologist at Capital Normal University. In response, the plants adapted the ability to grow in different locations using a flexible branching system. "As a result, this continuous branching forms a network structure and a very sturdy population structure, which can effectively resist the invasion of heavy snowstorms."

Sequencing Takakia's genome also helps to end a longstanding debate about its classification. "People wondered, is it really a moss? Or is it something like an alga or a liverwort? Because it has a combination of ancient traits," says Reski, "but our work shows that it's a moss."

While Takakia's genome has changed dramatically over time, its morphology has barely changed. "You normally would think, if you have a lot of mutations in your genome, at some point the form would change. We hope these findings will inspire a whole new field of study-evolution involving changing genomes and static morphology," says Reski.

The team also studied Takakia's environment using satellite weather data, equipment that studied the plant's "microclimate," and timelapse cameras that observed the larger environmental changes occurring in the greater ecosystem. They found that the climate was steadily warming and that the glaciers on the plateau were rapidly melting. They also observed that the moss is experiencing higher UV radiation than ever before. Studies the team performed in the lab showed that the level of UV radiation Takakia now experiences is enough to kill even other plants adapted for harsh environments.

In addition, the researchers noted that despite the moss's past success in rapid adaptation, it's becoming increasingly hard to find, even for experts like Li and Hu. In fact, they found that Takakia populations in Tibet decreased by around 1.6% each year over the course of their study. "Our prediction shows that suitable conditions regions for Takakia will shrink to only around 1,000-1,500 square kilometers all over the world at the end of the 21st century," says Hu. The authors agree that the moss likely won't survive another 100 years.

To help improve the moss's chances, the authors suggest educating the public about lesser-known species like Takakia. They also propose an international effort to combine resources so that researchers can continue studying and taking measures to protect the moss, such as cultivating it in a lab.

"Plant scientists cannot sit idly by. We are attempting to multiply some plants in the laboratory and then transplant them to our experimental sites in Tibet," says He. "After five years of continuous observation, it has been found that some transplanted plants can survive and thrive, which may be the dawn of the recovery-or at least a postponement of extinction-of Takakia populations."

"People have a responsibility to play a more active role in biodiversity conservation and restoration," says Hu. "We need to not only focus on those charming animals such as the panda, polar bear, and the white dolphin, but also pay close attention to these rare and little species. They are more vulnerable under climate change, such as our moss Takakia."

"We humans like to think that we are on top of evolution," adds Reski. "But the dinosaurs came and went, and so might humans, if we are not careful with our planet. Takakia may die because of climate change, but the other mosses will survive, even if we humans cannot. You can learn a lot from the simplest plants about the history of this planet, and maybe the future."

Research Report:Adaptive evolution of the enigmatic Takakia now facing climate change in Tibet."

Related Links
Cell Press
Lands Beyond Beyond - extra solar planets - news and science
Life Beyond Earth

Subscribe Free To Our Daily Newsletters

The following news reports may link to other Space Media Network websites.
Chemical contamination on International Space Station is out of this world
Birmingham UK (SPX) Aug 09, 2023
Concentrations of potentially harmful chemical compounds in dust collected from air filtration systems on the International Space Station (ISS) exceed those found in floor dust from many American homes, a new study reveals. In the first study of its kind, scientists analysed a sample of dust from air filters within the ISS and found levels of organic contaminants which were higher than the median values found in US and Western European homes. Publishing their results in Environmental Science ... read more

Embracing the future we need

Russian cosmonauts perform spacewalk to attach debris shields to space station

Advanced Space selected for two NASA SBIR Phase I Awards

NASA and Axiom Space join forces for fourth private mission in 2024

Impulse Space secures $45M in Series A Funding Round

Rocket Lab inks new deal to launch HASTE mission from Virginia

Boeing says troubled Starliner will be ready to fly crew by March

Hypersonics Capability Center: Northrop Grumman's next step beyond Mach 5

Organic molecules in Martian crater help to reconstruct planet's history

Mars once had wet-dry climate conducive to supporting life: study

InSight study finds Mars is spinning faster

Ingenuity flies again after unscheduled landing

China to launch "Innovation X Scientific Flight" program, applications open worldwide

Scientists reveal blueprint of China's lunar water-ice probe mission

Shenzhou 15 crew share memorable moments from Tiangong Station mission

China's Space Station Opens Doors to Global Scientific Community

ESA's Space Environment Report 2023

US storms, natural disasters push up insurance costs: Swiss Re

Eutelsat and Thaicom to partner for new software-defined satellite over Asia

Astra Space optimizes workforce to support sustainable long-term business plan

Studying rainforests from the skies - radar technology measures biomass

New method simplifies the construction process for complex materials

Sensing and controlling microscopic spin density in materials

Umbra achieves Commercial SAR milestone with 16-cm resolution

The oldest and fastest evolving moss in the world might not survive climate change

Chemical contamination on International Space Station is out of this world

New exoplanet discovery builds better understanding of planet formation

Violent Atmosphere Gives Rare Look at Early Planetary Life

Looking for Light with New Horizons

James Webb Space Telescope sees Jupiter moons in a new light

NASA's Juno Is Getting Ever Closer to Jupiter's Moon Io

SwRI team identifies giant swirling waves at the edge of Jupiter's magnetosphere

Subscribe Free To Our Daily Newsletters


The content herein, unless otherwise known to be public domain, are Copyright 1995-2023 - Space Media Network. All websites are published in Australia and are solely subject to Australian law and governed by Fair Use principals for news reporting and research purposes. AFP, UPI and IANS news wire stories are copyright Agence France-Presse, United Press International and Indo-Asia News Service. ESA news reports are copyright European Space Agency. All NASA sourced material is public domain. Additional copyrights may apply in whole or part to other bona fide parties. All articles labeled "by Staff Writers" include reports supplied to Space Media Network by industry news wires, PR agencies, corporate press officers and the like. Such articles are individually curated and edited by Space Media Network staff on the basis of the report's information value to our industry and professional readership. Advertising does not imply endorsement, agreement or approval of any opinions, statements or information provided by Space Media Network on any Web page published or hosted by Space Media Network. General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) Statement Our advertisers use various cookies and the like to deliver the best ad banner available at one time. All network advertising suppliers have GDPR policies (Legitimate Interest) that conform with EU regulations for data collection. By using our websites you consent to cookie based advertising. If you do not agree with this then you must stop using the websites from May 25, 2018. Privacy Statement. Additional information can be found here at About Us.