Photo courtesy of Texas A&M University
DAVIS, Calif. — Scientists here and around the country have finished mapping the genome of the loblolly pine, which university experts say is the most commercially important tree species in the United States.
A nationwide research team led by University of California-Davis plant sciences professor David Neale used a faster and more efficient method for sequencing the loblolly genome, which is about seven times bigger than the human genome, according to a university news release.
The achievement is described in two papers in this month’s issue of the journal Genetics and in one paper in the open access journal Genome Biology.
The loblolly pine is the source of most American paper products, and researchers say its genome sequence will help them breed improved varieties of the tree, which also is being developed as a feedstock for biofuel. The project also provided a better understanding of the evolution and diversity of plants, the release explains.
Helping the paper products industry was a primary justification for the project, Neale told the Capital Press in an email.
“Having a genome sequence will greatly accelerate pine breeding through the use of molecular breeding technologies just as it has done for nearly all major agricultural crop and livestock species,” he said. “This process is well under way through the major pine breeding programs.”
Scientists say the size of the massive loblolly genome was an obstacle to sequencing efforts until recently, when a method was developed by researchers at the University of Maryland that can speed up genome assembly by compressing the raw sequence data 100-fold, according to the release.
A scientist who worked on the bovine genome project once described it as like shredding a stack of newspapers and then piecing them all back together. With this project, 16 billion separate fragments had to be fit back together in a computerized puzzle called genome assembly.
The loblolly genome research was conducted in an open-access manner, which enabled data to be released as the project was ongoing, the release explained. Among the benefits, the project revealed the location of genes that may be involved in fighting off pathogens, which will teach researchers about disease resistance in pines.
The research was funded by the USDA’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture and led by a UC-Davis team, with the assembly stages led by Johns Hopkins University and the University of Maryland. Other participants included Washington State University.
Loblolly Pine Genome Project: https://dendrome.ucdavis.edu/NealeLab/lpgp/