The sacred lotus (Nelumbo nucifera) is a symbol of spiritual purity and longevity. Its seeds can survive up to 1,300 years, its petals and leaves repel grime and water, and its flowers generate heat to attract pollinators. Now, researchers report online on May 10, 2013 in an open-access article in Genome Biology that they have sequenced the lotus genome, and the results offer insight into the heart of some of its mysteries. The sequence reveals that of all the plants sequenced so far – and there are dozens – the sacred lotus bears the closest resemblance to the ancestor of all eudicots, a broad category of flowering plants that includes apple, cabbage, cactus, coffee, cotton, grape, melon, peanut, poplar, soybean, sunflower, tobacco, and tomato. The plant lineage that includes the sacred lotus forms a separate branch of the eudicot family tree, and so lacks a signature triplication of the genome seen in most other members of this family, said University of Illinois plant biology and Institute for Genomic Biology professor Ray Ming, who led the analysis with Dr. Jane Shen-Miller, a plant and biology professor at the University of California at Los Angeles (who germinated a 1,300-year-old sacred lotus seed); and Shaohua Li, director of the Wuhan Botanical Garden at the Chinese Academy of Sciences. "Whole-genome duplications – the doubling, tripling (or more) of an organism's entire genetic endowment – are important events in plant evolution," Dr. Ming said. Some of the duplicated genes retain their original structure and function, and so produce more of a given gene product – a protein, for example, he said. Some gradually adapt new forms to take on new functions. If those changes are beneficial, the genes persist; if they're harmful, they disappear from the genome.
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