You choose, we deliver
If you are interested in this story, you might be interested in others from The Journal Gazette. Go to www.journalgazette.net/newsletter and pick the subjects you care most about. We'll deliver your customized daily news report at 3 a.m. Fort Wayne time, right to your email.

Science & Tech

  • Microsoft skips Windows 9 to emphasize advances
    The next version of Microsoft's flagship operating system will be called Windows 10, as the company skips version 9 to emphasize advances it is making toward a world centered on mobile devices and Internet services.
  • US-Russian crew docks with space station
      BAIKONUR, Kazakhstan – A U.S.-Russian crew docked early Friday with the International Space Station, about six hours after launching from Russia’s manned space facility in Kazakhstan.
  • Earth’s water possibly predates sun formation
    When you take a sip from your water bottle, you just might be swallowing molecules older than the sun itself.
Advertisement
Associated Press
Scientists are working to decipher the DNA code of conifers, like this Norway spruce which serves as the Rockefeller Center Christmas Tree in New York.

Decoding Christmas trees

Scientists close to identifying DNA codes of conifers

– To millions of people, the Christmas tree is a cheerful sight. To scientists who decipher the DNA codes of plants and animals, it’s a monster.

We’re talking about the conifer, the umbrella term for cone-bearing trees like the spruce, fir, pine, cypress and cedar. Apart from their Yuletide popularity, they play big roles in the lumber industry and in healthy forest ecosystems.

Scientists would love to identify the billions of building blocks that make up the DNA of a conifer. That’s called sequencing its genome. Such analysis is a standard tool of biology, and doing it for conifers could reveal genetic secrets useful for basic science, breeding and forest management.

But the conifer genome is dauntingly huge. And like a big price tag on a wished-for present, that has put it out of reach.

Now, as Christmas approaches, it appears the conifer’s role as a genetic Grinch may be ending.

In recent months, scientific teams in the United States and Canada have released preliminary, patchy descriptions of conifer genomes. And a Swedish team plans to follow suit soon in its quest for the Norway spruce.

“The world changed for conifer genetics,” said David Neale of the University of California, Davis. It’s “entering the modern era.”

What happened? Credit the same recent technological advances that have some doctors predicting that someday, people will have their genomes sequenced routinely as part of medical care. The technology for that has gotten faster and much cheaper.

“Until just a few years ago, the idea of sequencing even a single conifer genome seemed impossible,” said John MacKay of the University of Laval in Quebec City, who codirects a multi-institution Canadian project that’s tackling the white spruce.

Advertisement