In a scientific achievement that is important in planning for future climate scenarios, and for protecting some endangered animal species, U.S. Forest Service research geneticist Bryce Richardson and research ecologist Michael Schwartz, have sequenced more than 40 billion base pairs of DNA from 130 samples of plant, animal and fungal species. The tree species were as diverse as tan oak, sugar pine and sagebrush.
This DNA sequencing is more than 12 times the amount of information in the human genome, which has about 3.3 billion base pairs. The massive undertaking, known as the Western Forest Transcriptome Survey, is a collaborative effort between four U.S. Forest Service research stations and four universities.
A “transcriptome” is the collection of genes an organism is expressing at any given point in time, reflecting its response to environmental cues like stress. Richardson says that studying sagebrush subspecies genomes will clarify the geographic boundaries and adaptations to their environments. Among other benefits this knowledge will help guide restoration of sagebrush wildlands by ensuring that appropriately adapted plant materials are match with the environment.
Schwartz’s analysis of fisher genomes reveals surprising results about distinct populations in California that have been isolated for thousands of years, suggesting that caution is called for with regard to introducing fisher populations from the North to the South.
Team participants included Rich Cronn, of the Pacific Northwest Research Station in Portland, OR, who led the study, and Jessica Wright and Andrew Groover of the Pacific Southwest Research Station, in Albany, CA.