Scientists Use DNA Testing to Solve ‘Tree of Life’ Mystery!

Seedlings spread from ancient trees in Madagascar via ocean currents to northwestern Australia and mainland Africa

Fri 17 May 24


Scientists have used DNA testing to solve the mystery of baobab trees’ origins. They have revealed that seedlings from ancient trees spread via ocean currents to northwestern Australia and mainland Africa.

Published in Nature, The Rise of Baobab Trees in Madagascar reveals that the trees first rose in Madagascar more than 21 million years ago, adding that the trees are now much closer to extinction than first thought.

As reported by the BBC, Baobabs, known as the “tree of life” or the “upside-down tree,” is in trouble due to climate change and widespread deforestation, with the research involving a collaboration between Wuhan Botanical Garden (China), Royal Botanic Gardens (Kew, UK), University of Antananarivo (Madagascar) and Queen Mary University of London (UK).

According to Dr Ilia Leitch, from the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, who worked on the study alongside her husband, Professor Andrew Leitch, of the Queen Mary University of London:

“We have been able to pinpoint the origin of baobabs, an iconic keystone species supporting a wide diversity of animals and plants as well as humans,” she told the BBC. “And the data have enabled us to provide important new insights which will inform their conservation to safeguard their future.”

One of the world’s oldest tree species has enormous ecosystem value. Footage courtesy of @animalogic.

The researchers studied eight baobab species, six of which were found in Madagascar, one widespread across Africa, and another in Australia.

They are now calling for a higher conservation status for two endangered Malagasy species, including the giant baobab, the biggest and most famous of Madagascar’s baobabs.

Baobabs are one of the most remarkable trees on earth, deeply intertwined with local cultures and traditions. They are also known as “mother of the forest” in the Malagasy language, the “upside down tree”, and the “tree of life”.

Trees can live for thousands of years, growing to a huge size and storing large amounts of water in their trunks to survive the dry seasons. Their fruits are regarded as superfoods, and their trunks can be used to make fibres for ropes or clothing. 

They produce large white flowers that open at dusk, attracting bats as pollinators, which travel vast distances to feed on their nectar. Trees are also important nesting sites for birds.


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