Researchers propose new approach for plant genome sequencing

A new study carried out by the Fort Worth-based Botanical Research Institute of Texas (FWBG|BRIT) shows how plant genomics has progressed and outlines a roadmap for sequencing the genomes of all plants around the world. The research was published in the esteemed journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Plant Genomics

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Nearly half a million species of plants inhabit the Earth today and the secret to understanding nearly everything about them is hidden in the sequences of their DNA (the plant genome). Plants are the foundation of environments across the planet and deciphering their genomes will be a game changer for understanding nearly all aspects of our own lives, from improving foods and medicines to inspiring artists and enhancing ecosystem stability.”

Dr W. John Kress, Study Senior Author and Curator Emeritus, Smithsonian Institution

Morgan Gostel, PhD, a Research Botanist from the Fort Worth-based Botanical Research Institute of Texas, is the co-author of the article. In partnership, FWBG|BRIT and Smithsonian Institution funded Global Genome Initiative for Gardens (aka GGI-Gardens).

As the director of GGI-Gardens, Gostel has been managing the international partnership since its inception in 2015. Until now, genomic tissues from over 10,000 species of plants have been collected and preserved with the support of GGI-Gardens.

The biggest challenge to jumpstarting an ambitious genome sequencing project like the Earth BioGenome Project is getting access to high-quality tissue from almost half a million species of plants on Earth. With our current technology and expectations for where sequencing technologies are headed in the future, high-quality plant tissue, either from well-preserved or fresh collections is critical.”

Morgan Gostel PhD, Research Botanist, Fort Worth Botanic Garden | Botanical Research Institute of Texas

A botanical garden is a good place to start tissue collection. More than a third of all plant species can be found in over 3,000 botanic gardens around the world.

This is precisely the role that GGI-Gardens is playing: connecting genome researchers to botanic gardens, advancing our knowledge of the role that plants play in our lives and tapping into the marvelous power of gardens.”

Morgan Gostel PhD, Research Botanist, Fort Worth Botanic Garden | Botanical Research Institute of Texas

It is no small task to sequence plant genomes, but that is the goal of the Earth BioGenome Project—“a ‘moonshot’ for biology, (that) aims to sequence, catalog, and characterize the genomes of all of Earth’s eukaryotic biodiversity (including plants, animals, and fungi) over a period of ten years.”

An international group of plant scientists co-authored the article published this week in PNAS Special Feature. It was one of ten articles published this week. It outlines a map that will help researchers across the globe achieve this ambitious goal.

The genome of an organism contains all the information required to carry out the processes of life; thus, it is not surprising that genomes are extremely complex. Researchers can learn how species are related and how they have evolved from other species by sequencing and assembling whole genomes. They can also learn how they perform biological functions and adapt to their environments.

Plant genome sequencing is especially challenging compared with sequencing genomes of other organisms for many reasons. One of the prime reasons is because there are so many plant species, and their genomes vary highly from each other’s and are mostly very complex.

The number of whole-genome sequences available for green plants as of today is 883 compared to 2,019 for vertebrates, yet there are more than 400,000 green plant species compared to 73,340 vertebrate species.

A plant’s genome size can also vary dramatically—some plants have genomes as small as 65,000 nucleotides (the molecule that forms the four “base pairs” in the genetic code) while others have genomes as large as nearly 150 billion nucleotides. Getting to know plant genomes involves an incredible amount of complexity.

The purpose of this study is to untangle this complexity. The authors present a roadmap to assist the global scientific community in collecting samples. In addition to the latest advances in technology and software, this roadmap combines partnerships with the Global Genome Initiative for Gardens and the Global Genome Biodiversity Network to help researchers sequence and assemble highly complex plant genomes.

Using this new perspective, botanists can advance plant genome sequencing to a whole new level.

Source:
Journal reference:

Kress, W. J., et al. (2022) Green plant genomes: What we know in an era of rapidly expanding opportunities. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. doi.org/10.1073/pnas.2115640118.

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