Using a Virginia Department of Forestry tree seedling, a team of scientists from across the nation has decoded the genome of a loblolly pine tree. With 22 billion base pairs, it represents the largest genome ever sequenced. In comparison, the human genome has three billion base pairs.
Led by Dr. David Neale, professor of plant sciences at the University of California, Davis, the scientific team broke down the tree's DNA into smaller, more manageable data pieces using the tissue from a single VDOF pine seedling, and analyzed the data with a super-computer. The team then re-assembled the pieces, figured out which genes were present, where they are on the genome, and what they do. Department of Forestry officials said this new approach, developed at the University of Maryland, enabled researchers to perform such a large and complex genome sequencing.
"It's a huge genome," said Dr. Neale. "But the challenge isn't just collecting all the sequence data. The problem is assembling that sequence into order. The contribution of loblolly pine tree selection 20-1010 from the Virginia Department of Forestry was critically important not only for the genome sequencing, but more so for all those who follow and will now have completely open access to data and germplasm resources. Researchers worldwide should be very grateful to the Virginia Department of Forestry."
Jerre Creighton, VDOF's research program coordinator, said, "Loblolly pine is the most common tree species in Virginia and the most commercially important tree in the United States. It's the primary source of pulpwood (used to make paper) and sawtimber (lumber). Today, Loblolly pine is being developed as a potential feedstock for the emerging biofuel industry."
The results of this research will help scientists breed improved varieties of Loblolly pines, some of which will be more resistant to pathogens, such as fusiform rust – the most damaging disease of southern pines.
"The possibilities are endless now that we know the Loblolly pine genome," said Creighton. "And what an honor for the Virginia Department of Forestry to have been selected to provide the tree that unlocked the vast genetic code of this important species!"
In addition to UC Davis and the University of Maryland, the research team was comprised of scientists from Johns Hopkins University, Indiana University – Bloomington, Texas A&M University, Children's Hospital Oakland Research Institute, and Washington State University.
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