Sunday, April 22, 2012

The Quick and Dirty Story of the Evolution of Plant Life and Secondary Metabolites




Here's what I learned in class today:

The first evolving primitive plants established themselves in moist environments of the shores. These early plants were in intense competition with all the other organisms that were established one the shores before plants arrived; viruses, bacteria and fungi owned the place.

Plants began to produce substances which made it more challenging for the surrounding organisms to eat them, which gave them the advantage in their survival and reproduction.

Then, 500 million years of trial and error produced plants with refined biochemical responses that have provided for their survival. The secondary metabolites of these plants, sort of like their immune system, are their defense and self-preservation system. Early needle trees are among the oldest plants on the planet, by the way, and today when we gather essential oils from them, it's interesting to imagine we are harvesting secondary metabolites from a source that has been around for a very, very long time.

These secondary metabolites helped plants address challenges such as too much ultraviolet exposure, pathogen attacks, repairing wounds and attracting insects to assist in pollination.