UA Research Discovers Conifer Trees Duplicated Entire Genome Sequence During Evolution

By Andrew Bernier
Published: Tuesday, November 24, 2015 - 5:11pm
Updated: Wednesday, November 25, 2015 - 12:31pm
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(Photo by Jimmy Jenkins - KJZZ)
It's Christmas tree cutting season, meaning people can get permits to cut down their own tannenbaum in national forests - just like Jimmy Jenkins did a few Christmases ago.

Flowering plants commonly duplicate their genome, or their entire set of genes, as part of their evolution. But research has said coniferous plants, like pine and spruce trees, don’t do this. Now, a University of Arizona lab is arguing otherwise.

Looking at DNA samples of 24 conifer species, UA’s Michael Barker suggests somewhere between 200 to 300 million years ago, cone-bearing trees duplicated their genomes.

“Sorta like genetic baby booms is one way to think about them,” Barker said.

Barker said this duplication may have been in response to environmental pressures at the time, which allowed speciation and survival of mass extinctions. But, he said it impacts today, too.

“When we think about the contemporary legacy of these ancient genome duplications, they can have a fairly large impact on the composition of the genomes, so they shape how the genomes are organized," Barker said. "And that has practical consequences for the forestry industry and for lumber development. So it helps to know that things are duplicated and that you expect to see these duplications in these plants.”

Barker said prior research on conifers may have been muddled by the sheer amount of data generated by the duplication of the plant’s already large genomes. He said new algorithms made sorting the genetic data easier.

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