The Dinosaur in your Living Room

Good news for fans of Jurassic Park, many people have a liv­ing being from the age of the dino­saurs in their liv­ing rooms this Christmas. This cheer­fully sen­sa­tion­al­ist con­clu­sion is my own, after read­ing a press release from L’Université Laval and the asso­ci­ated paper: A spruce gene map infers ancient plant gen­ome reshuff­ling and sub­sequent slow evol­u­tion in the gym­no­sperm lin­eage lead­ing to extant con­ifers.

Solitary Spruce

Spruce in the Black Forest. Photo: Andreas Wonisch/Flickr

The paper looks at the how the gen­ome evol­u­tion dif­fers for angio­sperms, flower­ing plants, and gym­no­sperms. Conifers are good examples of gym­no­sperms, which don’t flower. The team writ­ing the paper notes that angio­sperms have had a lot of atten­tion, but gym­no­sperms haven’t. Their research indic­ates some­thing odd has happened to the con­ifer gen­ome. Or maybe that should be some­thing has oddly failed to hap­pen to the con­ifer genome.

What they found was that ancient gene duplic­ates shared by angio­sperms and gym­no­sperms out­numbered conifer-specific duplic­ates by a ratio of eight to one. Not only that but the ancient genes shared with angio­sperms were much more shuffled round in the gen­ome. It sug­gests that once con­ifers diverged from their rel­at­ives their gen­ome settled down rap­idly. The estim­ate is that the gen­ome has been fairly stable for a hun­dred mil­lion years. That’s com­fort­ably back into the Cretaceous period. “That doesn’t mean there haven’t been smal­ler scale modi­fic­a­tions such as genetic muta­tions,” points out Prof. Jean Bousquet, who super­vised the research. “However, the mac­ro­struc­ture of the con­ifer gen­ome has been remark­ably stable over the ages.”

It’s not a pat­tern you see with angio­sperms and the dif­fer­ence has vis­ible con­sequences. The press release notes that there are 600 known spe­cies of con­ifer and 400,000 spe­cies of angio­sperm. “Conifers appear to have achieved a bal­ance with their envir­on­ment very early,” remarked Professor Bousquet. “Still today, without arti­fice, these plants thrive over much of the globe, par­tic­u­larly in cold cli­mates. In con­trast, flower­ing plants are under intense evol­u­tion­ary pres­sure as they battle for sur­vival and reproduction.”

It’s the lack of change that sur­prises me. When you think of all the changes that have happened around the trees over a hun­dred mil­lion years, gyn­mo­sperms must be stag­ger­ingly suc­cess­ful organisms.

You can read the full art­icle as an Open Access paper.

Pavy N., Pelgas B., Laroche J., Rigault P., Isabel N. & Bousquet J. (2012). A spruce gene map infers ancient plant gen­ome reshuff­ling and sub­sequent slow evol­u­tion in the gym­no­sperm lin­eage lead­ing to extant con­ifers, BMC Biology, 10 (1) 84. DOI:

Photo: Christmas Time by Andreas Wonisch. This image licensed under a Creative Commons by-nc licence.

Alun Salt. ORCID 0000-0002-1261-4283

When he's not the web developer for AoB Blog, Alun Salt researches something that could be mistaken for the archaeology of science. His current research is about whether there's such a thing as scientific heritage and if there is how would you recognise it?