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

  • New Earth-size planet found
    The hunt for Earth’s alien twin reached a new milestone with the discovery of a faraway exoplanet that’s not much bigger than our own globe and is theoretically capable of retaining liquid water.
  • Researchers clone adults’ stem cells
    Scientists have grown stem cells from adults using cloning techniques for the first time – bringing them closer to developing patient-specific lines of cells that can be used to treat a whole host of ailments, including heart disease and blindness.
  • Wireless industry makes anti-theft commitment
    A trade group for wireless providers said Tuesday that that nation’s biggest mobile device manufacturers and carriers will soon put anti-theft tools on the gadgets to try to deter rampant smartphone theft.
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