If you watched the movie, “Star Trek Into Darkness,” you might still remember the weird planet Nibiru that is covered with red plants. As absurd as it may sound, this could have been the situation on Earth. The question then is, “why are most grasses and plants green and not red?”
A recent paper in the Journal of Phycology in which the lead author is Huan Qiu, research associate in the Debashish Bhattacharya lab, provides an intriguing answer. Huan analyzed a comprehensive genome database that included red algae and their sister lineage, the green algae (including land plants). He found that the red algal common ancestor suffered severe losses of important genes and functions.
Huan and the research team suggested that this was likely caused by life in a very stressful environment over a billion years ago that forced the red algal ancestor to shed hundreds of genes to compete with other microbes. This loss likely made them less able to compete with the gene-rich green algae that ultimately conquered land, giving rise to plants. Read more in an article on the Department of Ecology, Evolution and Natural Resources website.