A seagrass meadow spanning more than 111 miles in western Australia is a single plant — and the world’s largest known organism, according to a study published this week.
The big picture: “Nature is amazing if you don’t disturb it,” says Elizabeth Sinclair, an evolutionary biologist at the University of Western Australia and a co-author of the study published in the Proceedings of the Royal Society B.
Details: DNA analysis revealed the meadow in Shark Bay was a single plant made from clones that grow from rhizomes, a type of stem that extends in the sand in multiple directions.
- It takes up about 77 square miles and the researchers estimate it is 4,500 years old.
The intrigue: Normally, seagrass (P. australis) commonly found in the region has 20 chromosomes, but the large clone has 40 chromosomes.
- “That effectively doubles the amount of [genetic] variation,” Sinclair says. “Having all this extra variation likely gives it an advantage to coping with a wider range in environments, including the large change in salinity, or saltiness, of the water.”
What’s next: The team is now looking at how different pieces of the plant can live in different local environments with varying amounts of salt, Sinclair says.