The University of Western Australia’s Ocean’s Institute has confirmed that an ancient seagrass holds the secrets of the oldest living organism on Earth.
Ancient giant Posidonia oceanica reproduces asexually, generating clones of itself. A single organism — which has been found to span up to 15 kilometers in width and reach more than 6000 metric tons in mass — may well be more than 100,000 years old.
“Clonal organisms have an extraordinary capacity to transmit only ‘highly competent’ genomes, through generations, with potentially no end,” said Director of UWA’s Oceans’ Institute Winthrop Professor Carlos Duarte.
Researchers analyzed 40 meadows across 3500 kilometers of the Mediterranean sea. Computer models helped demonstrate that the clonal spread mode of Posidonia oceanica, which as all other seagrasses can reproduce both sexually and asexually, allows them to spread and maintain highly competent clones over millennia, whereas even the most competent genotypes of organisms that can only reproduce sexually are lost at every generation.
“Understanding why those particular genomes have been so adaptable to a broad range of environmental conditions for so long is the key to some interesting future research,” Professor Duarte said.
The genus Posidonia occurs only in Mediterranean and Australian waters.
The findings have been published in the online journal PLoS ONE.