Tree DNA: Science Cracks the Genetic Code of the White Spruce

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A Vancouver lab just cracked the code behind the gene jigsaw that makes up the white spruce tree, according to the Canadian Press for a Metro News exclusive.

The tree is a Canadian goldmine for environmental science. And just a goldmine. As one of the primary species used for Canadian lumber exports, ol’whitey is worth billions.

Steven Jones at BC Cancer Agency’s Genome Science Centre says that scientists will use the broken down “large, complex jigsaw puzzle” to figure out and study what makes trees thrive, die, and be resistant to things like insects and cold weather. Access to the basic map of the tree’s individual genes provides researchers with a fundamental perspective for digging into these details.

The world and Canada is undergoing quite a bit of environmental change and as tree stands get destroyed by things like the mountain pine beetle, for instance…we have to think about what kinds of trees we want to plant or replant in those areas,” Steven told Metro.

The white spruce’s genome sequence is 10 times larger than that of humans.

Jones speculates that the sheer size of this genetic structure has something to do with how resilient the tree has learned to become over time. “We might think of animals as having a more complex genome. But in the event that the environment is not conducive to an animal, theoretically the animal has the option to move away, but a tree does not.”

The same Vancouver lab responsible for the breakthrough mapped the breast cancer genome in years prior.

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