The genome of a small plant is providing biofuels researchers with information that could influence the development of candidate biofuel feedstock plants and offering botanists long-awaited insights into plant evolution. A team of researchers, including from DOE’s Joint Genome Institute (JGI), used a comparative genomics approach on Selaginella moellendorffii and 14 other plants up and down the phylogenetic tree to identify the core genes likely to be present in a common ancestor to land plants.
“When you burn coal, you’re burning Selaginella’s ancestors,” said Purdue University botanist Jody Banks, who led the 2005 DOE JGI Community Sequencing Program project. The Selaginella research community has grown up around the availability of the genome since 2009 through the DOE JGI’s plant portal Phytozome. The spikemoss genome has revealed the transition from mosses to plants with vascular systems involving fewer genes than going from a non flower-producing vascular plant to one that does.
The spikemoss genome is already proving useful for biofuels researchers. For example, Banks’ colleague Clint Chapple, a coauthor on the paper and a Purdue colleague, has been using the Selaginella genome to study the pathways by which the three different types of lignin are synthesized in plants. He and his team have used enzymes from the lignin-synthesizing pathway in Selaginella to modify the canonical lignin-producing pathway in Arabidopsis to produce the polymer.
Reference: Banks, J. A., et al. 2011. “The Selaginella Genome Identifies Genetic Changes Associated with the Evolution of Vascular Plants,” Science 332, 960–63. Published online May 5, 2011, DOI:10.1126/science.1203810.
Contact: Dan Drell, SC-23.2, (301) 903-4742
SC-33.2 Biological Systems Science Division, BER
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