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Liverworts are everywhere — from inner cities to the remotest wilderness!

However, they are small plants that are easily overlooked growing in pavement cracks and hiding in damp shady spots. Despite their diminutive size they are making a big impact on our understanding of the evolution of plants.

Liverworts are small flowerless plants with leaf-like lobes called a thallus, which looks like a lobed liver - hence their common name. It is estimated there are 6000-8000 species of liverworts and they provide important microhabitats for insects and micro-organisms. Discover more in the BBS Field Guide of Mosses and Liverworts of Britain and Ireland.

Liverworts, and their relatives the mosses and hornworts, split from flowering plants more than 400 million years ago. This divergence from their common ancestor gives scientists an insight into the past and how plant diversity has evolved.

A Sainsbury Laboratory research group, led by Sebastian Schornack, has identified a common set of pathogen-responsive genes that are shared with liverworts and flowering plants. These ancient gene families that protect plants from pathogens date back to early land plant evolution.

The Schornack team is interested in the mechanisms involved in both pathogenic and beneficial relationships between plants and microbes. This research includes studying the cellular signals that help plants and microbes communicate with each other and tell the plants whether to let down their defenses to let a friend in or to ramp up their defenses against a foe. Read more