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Tree DNA

May 19, 2013

It might come as news to you that scientists are trying to sequence the genomes of all kinds of different things… including trees. It might surprise you even more that humans, as awesome as we are, have nowhere near the largest genome. In fact, we have seriously whimpy genomes compared to flowering plants – who apparently have some kind of complex and have to overcompensate.

The most recent record-breaking effort was to sequence the Pinus taeda – also known as the loblolly pine.


This type of tree has 24 billion basepairs (or letters) in their genome. For reference, humans only have ~6 billion basepairs. Embarrassing.

The thing about genomes is that they aren’t comprised entirely of genes – and we don’t reeeeeaaally know what all the non-gene DNA is even doing there. Some of it appears to regulate when certain genes will get turned on or off, and some of it seems to have no purpose (but most likely it does and we just haven’t figured it out yet).

“junk DNA” – well played Google

By sequencing the genomes of all sorts of species from bacteria to plants to people, we can learn more about how every living being might be related on the tree of life. We can use similarities in sequences to determine which species are more closely related than others, which ones might share a common evolutionary ancestor, etc. It’s pretty cool stuff, but the coolest part of this whole story is still the name of the loblolly pine.



From → Biology

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