Into the deep: New discoveries at the base of the green plant phylogeny



Recent data have provided evidence for an unrecognised ancient lineage of green plants that persists in marine deep-water environments. The green plants are a major group of photosynthetic eukaryotes that have played a prominent role in the global ecosystem for millions of years. A schism early in their evolution gave rise to two major lineages, one of which diversified in the world's oceans and gave rise to a large diversity of marine and freshwater green algae (Chlorophyta) while the other gave rise to a diverse array of freshwater green algae and the land plants (Streptophyta). It is generally believed that the earliest-diverging Chlorophyta were motile planktonic unicellular organisms, but the discovery of an ancient group of deep-water seaweeds has challenged our understanding of the basal branches of the green plant phylogeny. In this review, we discuss current insights into the origin and diversification of the green plant lineage.