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Largest known plant on earth discovered in Western Australia

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Researchers have discovered what they believe to be the largest plant in the world - a seagrass stretching across some180 kilometres off Western Australia's coast.

Researchers from The University of Western Australia (UWA) and Flinders University discovered the "clone" of the seagrass Posidoniaaustralis in the shallow waters of Shark Bay in Western Australia, according to a study published in Proceedings of the Royal Society Bon Wednesday.

The researchers said they were investigating how many different plants were growing in seagrass meadows in Shark Bay, 831 kilometres north of Perth, when genetic testing revealed it was a single plant, estimated to be at least 4,500 years old.

Lead author Jane Edgeloe, an UWA student researcher, said the team sampled seagrass shoots from across the bay's variable environments and generated a "fingerprint" using 18,000 genetic markers.

"Just one plant has expanded over 180km in Shark Bay, making it the largest known plant on Earth," Edgeloe said. "The answer blew us away."

"The existing 200km2 of ribbon weed meadows appear to have expanded from a single, colonising seedling," Edgeloe went on.

"This single plant may in fact be sterile; it doesn't have sex,"co-author Martin Breed from Flinders University said.

"How it's survived and thrived for so long is really puzzling. Plantsthat don't have sex tend to also have reduced genetic diversity, which they normally need when dealing with environmental change, "Breed said, adding that the seagrass would have experienced conditions that are typically highly stressful for plants.

"Yet, it appears to keep on going," he said.--dpa

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