To complete this task, the Amborella team is employing "shotgun" technology that breaks DNA into tiny bits, sequences those bits simultaneously and reassembles them into a long chain. The approach is cheaper and quicker than older methods that require scientists to sequence entire strands of DNA in order, beginning at one end and moving to the other.
At UB, Albert and fellow researchers will use visual mapping to check their colleagues' work, examining large pieces of sequenced DNA under a microscope to make sure those pieces fit correctly on Amborella chromosomes. (Though scientists do not know the exact sequence of the Amborella genome, they do already know how large chunks of DNA map to one another.)
UB researchers will also compare Amborella's genetic material to that of other plants, including rice, the cucumber, the tomato and the potato.
The goal of these comparative studies is to learn more about whole-genome duplication, a commonplace process in flowers in which a new plant inherits an extra, duplicate copy of its parents' DNA. Because redundant copies of genes can evolve to develop new functions, scientists think that whole-genome duplication may be behind "Darwin's abominable mystery" -- the abrupt proliferation of new varieties of flowering plants in fossil records dating to the Cretaceous period.
Amborella has relatively few chromosomes, leading biologists including Albert to conclude that the species may never have undergone such a doubling.
Besides research, the Amborella genome project also includes plans for creating education, training and mentoring opportunities for high school students, undergraduates, graduate students and postdoctoral researchers.
|Contact: Charlotte Hsu|
University at Buffalo