Plants spend their entire lifetime rooted to one spot. When faced with a bad situation, such as a swarm of hungry herbivores or a viral outbreak, they have no option to flee but instead must fight to survive. What is the key to their defense? Chemistry. Thanks to this ongoing conflict, plants have evolved into amazing chemists, capable of synthesizing tens of thousands of compounds from thousands of genes. These chemicals, known as specialized metabolites, allow plants to withstand transient threats from their environment. What’s more, some of the same compounds benefit humans, with more than a third of medicinal drugs derived from plant specialized metabolites. Understanding how plants evolved this prodigious chemical vocabulary has been a longstanding goal in plant biology. A team of Carnegie scientists led by Seung Yon Rhee and Lee Chae undertook a large-scale comparative analysis of plant genomes to investigate how specialized metabolism evolved. Their findings, as reported in Science, have major implications for the way scientists search for novel beneficial metabolites in plants. To perform the study, the team developed a computational pipeline system that can transform a sequenced plant genome into a representation of the organism’s metabolism. This is known as a metabolic
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