Broad Phylogenomic Sampling and the Sister Lineage of Land Plants
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The tremendous diversity of land plants all descended from a single charophyte green alga that colonized the land somewhere between 430 and 470 million years ago. Six orders of charophyte green algae, in addition to embryophytes, comprise the Streptophyta s.l. Previous studies have focused on reconstructing the phylogeny of organisms tied to this key colonization event, but wildly conflicting results have sparked a contentious debate over which lineage gave rise to land plants. The dominant view has been that ‘stoneworts,’ or Charales, are the sister lineage, but an alternative hypothesis supports the Zygnematales (often referred to as “pond scum”) as the sister lineage. In this paper, we provide a well-supported, 160-nuclear-gene phylogenomic analysis supporting the Zygnematales as the closest living relative to land plants. Our study makes two key contributions to the field: 1) the use of an unbiased method to collect a large set of orthologs from deeply diverging species and 2) the use of these data in determining the sister lineage to land plants. We anticipate this updated phylogeny not only will hugely impact lesson plans in introductory biology courses, but also will provide a solid phylogenetic tree for future green-lineage research, whether it be related to plants or green algae.