A Brief History of Marchantia from Greece to Genomics

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Abstract

While written accounts of plants date back thousands of years, due to the degradation of scientific literature during the dark ages descriptions descended from Greek writings are sometimes equivocal as to species identity. Such is the case with Marchantia in the pre-Renaissance literature; however, indisputable illustrations of Marchantia polymorpha were made as early as the mid-15th century, beginning a rich historical literature on its taxonomy, development and physiology. In this review, I present three vignettes, each of which are themselves abbreviated due to space constraints. The first presents the role of Marchantia and related liverwort species in the discovery of sex in cryptogams, from the elucidation of liverwort life cycles the 18th century to the sequence of the Y chromosome in the 21st. A second vignette describes the use of M. polymorpha as a model organism in the early 19th century debate concerning the cellular nature of organisms and the origin of new cells—an endeavor that provided us with Charles-François Brisseau de Mirbel’s mémoire containing beautiful, if slightly fanciful, illustrations of the Marchantia life cycle. The final vignette chronicles the use of M. polymorpha gemmae over the past two centuries to elucidate the mechanism by which a dorsiventral body plan is established from an initially apolar gemma. While only covering a fraction of the literature available, these vignettes provide a glimpse of historical and recent discoveries available upon which to build a molecular genetic and genomic understanding of Marchantia.

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