A Plant & Food Research project into the unique way liverworts shield themselves from extreme environments has been awarded funding for ongoing research in the latest round of Marsden Awards.
Liverworts, simple plants named for some species’ liver-like shape, are closely related to the first plants to evolve on land and tackle the extreme conditions on Earth millions of years ago. More than 8000 species of liverworts have colonised all parts of the planet, surviving in environments such as the intense cold and light of Antarctica, the rainforests of New Zealand, and the deserts of Australia.
Plant & Food Research lead researcher Dr. Kevin Davies says when liverworts are stressed by drought, extreme cold, heat or light, a red pigment called riccionidin increases, altering the structure of cell walls, reducing water loss and cell damage.
The research project, entitled ‘Better red than dead’, is investigating how and why liverworts build riccionidin into their cell walls.
“There is the prospect this could help us find ways to improve the tolerance of other plants to more extreme conditions,” he says. Another red flavonoid, anthocyanin, is responsible for red colouration in the flowers, flesh and skins of other plants and their fruit. Anthocyanins also help protect plants, possibly through their anti-oxidative properties.