Twenty-first century technology is addressing many of the questions posed by 20th-century biology. Although the new approaches, especially those involving genomic data and bioinformatic tools, were first applied to model organisms, they are now stretching across the tree of life. Here, we review some recent revelations in the ferns. We first examine how DNA sequence data have contributed to our understanding of fern phylogeny. We then address evolution of the fern plastid genome, including reports of high levels of RNA editing. Recent studies are also shedding light on the evolution of fern nuclear genomes. Initial analyses of genomic data suggest that despite their very high chromosome numbers homosporous ferns may have experienced relatively few rounds of genome duplication. Genomic data are enabling researchers to examine speciation rates and the mechanisms underlying the formation of new fern species. We also describe genetic tools that have been used to study gene function and development in ferns. Recent findings in fern biology are providing insights that are not only pertinent to this major component of the land flora but can also help to provide an improved evolutionary context for research on flowering plants.
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Vol. 60 • No. 3