The answer to the secret of the persistence of weeds known as Vilayati Babul or mesquite that ravage the Delhi Ridge every year is here.
A Delhi scientist has led an international team of researchers to the strongest evidence yet linking a plant's evolutionary survival to the unique way its DNA structures are paired. The finding could prove critical to identifying in advance both tackling invasive plants - that mushroom out of control - and protecting endangered species.
The research by Maharaj Pandit, head, department of environment, Delhi University, and two scientists from the UK shows that the number and pairing of chromosomes - DNA structures within a cell - indicate a plant's likelihood to proliferate or die out.
"We now have a genetic model that is more robust than what was available," Pandit told HT. The research findings by Pandit, Michael Pocock from the University of Bristol and William Kunin from the University of Leeds have been published in the latest edition of Journal of Ecology.
Plants with a higher number of identical sets of chromosomes - known as the ploidy - in their cells and a higher chromosome count are likelier to be invasive than others in their sub-family - known as genus - with low ploidy and chromosome numbers, the researchers found. The scientists have cautioned that it is appropriate only to compare plants within a genus.
The Vilayati Babul and the Khejri found in Rajasthan both belong to the same sub-family - Prosopis. But while the Vilayati Babul is rampant - and has to be weeded out each year from the Delhi Ridge - the Khejri is much rarer. The reason is the difference in their ploidy number, Pandit said.
The challenge before India now is to find the genetic composition of flora found in India - the chromosome number of over 50% of the Indian flora is not yet known, he said. Earlier models that have suggested which plants could be endangered and which invasive have been equivocal.