Research at the University of Leeds has identified a key gene that assisted the transition of plants from water to the land around 500 million years ago.
The ANR gene is required to tolerate 'extreme dehydration' in the moss Physcomitrella patens, a land plant that is used as an experimental model.
Researchers at the Centre for Plant Sciences at the University found that the ANR gene - present in the most ancient land plants - was inherited from ancestral fresh water algae.
The ANR gene has since been lost in the evolution of seed plants. The results are published today in the American Society of Plant Biology's journal The Plant Cell.
Dr Andrew Cuming, who led the research, said: "This gene hadn't been identified so far because most research until now has focused on modern flowering plants.