U.S. Forest Service Southern Research Station (SRS) scientists co-authored an article published on March 4, 2014 in an open-access article in the journal Genome Biology that reports the sequencing, assembly, and annotation of the loblolly pine (Pinus taeda) genome. As the primary source of pulpwood and saw timber for the U.S. forest industry, loblolly pine is of great economic importance to the South and to the nation. Dr. David Neale, professor of plant sciences at the University of California, Davis, led the loblolly pine genome project. “The project was a huge undertaking because at 22 gigabases, the loblolly pine genome is about eight times larger than the human genome,” said Dr. C. Dana Nelson, SRS Southern Institute for Forest Genetics (SIFG) project leader and research geneticist. “The group chose loblolly pine both because of its economic importance, and the knowledge gained from 60 years of breeding the species and managing millions of trees in genetic trials.” As part of the project, researchers identified a candidate for a gene involved in resistance to fusiform rust, a disease that infects southern pines. SIFG biological science technician Katherine Smith worked with Dr. John M. Davis, professor and associate director of the School of Forest Resources and Conservation at the University of Florida (UF), to compare mapped sections of the genome with sections found in loblolly specimens previously inoculated with the pathogen that causes fusiform rust. “Fusiform rust is the most damaging disease of southern pines—and one of the most complex, due to genetic interactions between the pathogen and its host,” said Dr. Davis, who also serves as faculty and Executive Committee member at the UF Genetics Institute.
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