Author Topic: Genomes Gone Wild - Weird and wonderful, plant DNA is challenging preconceptions about the evolution of life, including our own species.  (Read 280 times)

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Genomes Gone Wild

BEAUTY AND DIVERSITY: With 150 billion base pairs, Paris japonica boasts the largest known eukaryotic genome—50 times the size of the human genome.

 What do cells, genes, mutations, transposons, RNA silencing, and DNA recombination have in common? All were discovered first in plants.

It sounds grandiose, but it’s true, and plant biologists delight in reminding others of these plant-derived breakthroughs. The first cell observed under a microscope, back in the mid-1660s by physicist Robert Hooke, was a plant cell in a slice of cork. Botanist Robert Brown first named the nucleus after observing opaque spots inside orchid cells. The saintly father of genetics, Gregor Mendel, defined the laws of inheritance by studying pea plants. The list goes on.

Today, with the advent of high-throughput sequencing, that legacy of firsts in the plant field is extending to genomics research. In the tens of millions of nucleic acids of familiar and not-so-familiar plant species—from fluffy, domesticated cotton to aquatic, carnivorous bladderwort—plant biologists are uncovering surprising principles about how genomes are organized and how they evolved.

In the last two years, researchers have stumbled upon some “mind-blowing” phenomena in plant genomics, including genomes so strange that “we didn’t think [they] could be like that,” says R. Keith Slotkin, a geneticist at Ohio State University. Examples include the peaceful coexistence of two different genomes in a single nucleus and the willy-nilly way plants swap genes among species. And just as with Hooke’s, Brown’s, and Mendel’s fundamental discoveries in plant biology, the bizarre behavior of plant genomes often applies to animals as well.

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