Wood-destroyer sequenced

Image: Gerhard Schuster, Wikimedia Commons.
Image: Gerhard Schuster, Wikimedia Commons.

In a beau­ti­fully under­stated open­ing sen­tence – worthy of Watson and Crick’s fam­ous 1953 sem­inal paper describ­ing the struc­ture of DNA – Robin Ohmi et al. (Nature Biotechnology, doi:10.1038/nbt.1643) remind us that ‘much remains to be learned about the bio­logy of mushroom-forming fungi, which are an import­ant source of food, sec­ond­ary meta­bol­ites and indus­trial enzymes’. As patho­gens, and mycor­rhiza, such organ­isms are also some­times the scourge and life-saving part­ner, respect­ively, of plants. Good news, then, that the gen­ome of one lignovore has now been sequenced. Hopes are high that ana­lysis of the 13,210 genes of Schizophyllum com­mune’s 38.5 mega­base gen­ome will lead to bet­ter under­stand­ing of toad­stool bio­logy using this ‘genet­ic­ally tract­able model for study­ing mush­room devel­op­ment’. Furthermore – and mak­ing a vir­tue out of the fungus’ wood-devouring activ­ity – unrav­el­ling this abil­ity might help us to develop more effi­cient wood-degradation pro­cesses with con­com­it­ant indus­trial applic­a­tions. We con­tinue the DNA theme with news of two more plant-relevant gen­ome sequences, wheat and apple. A UK team has recently pro­duced a draft of the gen­ome of bread wheat (Triticum aes­tivum) vari­ety ‘Chinese Spring’  (http://​www​.bris​tol​.ac​.uk/​n​e​w​s​/​2​0​1​0​/​7​1​8​6​.​h​tml), which has been made freely avail­able at http://​www​.cer​ealsdb​.uk​.net/. Although acknow­ledged to be but a first step towards a fully annot­ated gen­ome, wheat is one of the major staple food crops of the world and this land­mark is viewed as a sig­ni­fic­ant con­tri­bu­tion to efforts to sup­port global food secur­ity. And the res­ult is no mean feat since the hexaploid wheat gen­ome is five times the size of the human gen­ome and the cer­eal has a very tangled evol­u­tion­ary his­tory involving much incor­por­a­tion of genetic mater­ial from ances­tral grasses. Meanwhile, on the other side of the Atlantic (but pub­lished in a UK-based journal), another group has pro­duced ‘a high-quality draft gen­ome sequence of the domest­ic­ated apple (Malus × domest­ica)’ (Nature Genetics, doi:10.1038/ng.654). The task of sequen­cing the gen­ome of the ‘Golden Delicious’ cul­tivar – which at approx. 750 mega­bases and con­tain­ing an estim­ated 57,386 genes is big­ger even than wheat’s – took Riccardo Velasco and >80 named co-workers 2 years. Although apples are not a staple food in the same stable as wheat, as a woody mem­ber of the Rosaceae, which includes many import­ant fruit crops, unrav­el­ling its genetic secrets will be extremely use­ful for fur­ther exploit­a­tion of those crops, and con­sti­tutes a sig­ni­fic­ant addi­tion to the grow­ing list of plant gen­ome sequences. 

Nigel Chaffey. ORCID 0000-0002-4231-9082

Nigel is a botanist and full-time academic at Bath Spa University (Bath, near Bristol, UK). As News Editor for the Annals of Botany he contributes the monthly Plant Cuttings column to that august international botanical organ. His main goal is to inform (hopefully, in an educational, and entertaining way...) about plants and plant-people interactions.

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