Plant scientists plan massive effort to sequence 10,000 genomes

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By Dennis Normile

SHENZEN, CHINA—Hopes of sequencing the DNA of every living thing on Earth are taking a step forward with the announcement of plans to sequence at least 10,000 genomes representing every major clade of plants and eukaryotic microbes. Chinese sequencing giant BGI and the China National GeneBank (CNGB) held a workshop yesterday on the sidelines of the International Botanical Congress, being held this week in BGI’s hometown of Shenzhen, to discuss what they are calling the 10KP plan. About 250 plant scientists participated in the discussions and “are raring to go,” says Gane Ka-Shu Wong, a genomicist and bioinformaticist at University of Alberta in Edmonton, Canada.

The 10KP plan will be a key part of the Earth BioGenome Project (EBP), an ambitious and still evolving scheme to get at least rough sequence data on the 1.5 million eukaryotic species, starting with detailed sequences of one member of each of the 9000 eukaryotic families. The effort to sequence plants is moving ahead a bit faster than other aspects of EBP “because plant scientists are more collaborative,” Wong says jokingly.

The 10KP plan is also building on a previous 1000 plant (1KP) transcriptome project. That effort, launched in 2012 and now nearing completion, was also led by BGI, where Wong is an associate director. 

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  1. @OP – SHENZEN, CHINA—Hopes of sequencing the DNA of every living thing on Earth are taking a step forward with the announcement of plans to sequence at least 10,000 genomes representing every major clade of plants and eukaryotic microbes.

    I see that in regard to plants this project has tried to identify the ancestral flower!

    http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/science-environment-40780491

    Did the first flower look like this?

    All living flowers ultimately derive from a single ancestor that lived about 140 million years ago, a study suggests.

    Scientists combined models of flower evolution with the largest data set of features from living flowers ever assembled.

    From this the team was able to infer the appearance of the ancestral flower.

    The flower had many concentric cycles of petal-like organs in sets of three, arranged in whorls, and was bisexual.

    Hervé Sauquet, from Université Paris-Sud, France, one of the authors of the paper published this week in Nature Communications said: “There is no living flower that looks exactly like the ancestral one – and why should there be? This is a flower that existed at least 140 million years ago and has had considerable time to evolve into the incredible diversity of flowers that exist today.”

    We are all familiar with the beauty of flowers – the reproductive structures produced by about 90 % of all living land plants. But their origin and early evolution is a mystery. This is mainly owing to the lack of fossil flowers from the time period when the ancestor of living flowers is thought to have existed.

    Dr Jason Hilton from the University of Birmingham, UK, who was not involved in the study, said: “The structure and organisation of the ancestral flower has remained enigmatic.

    For instance, we don’t know if the oldest flowers were unisexual or bisexual, or if they were pollinated by wind or insects.”

    To reconstruct the appearance of the first flower, the scientists recorded the features – such as the petals and sepals – of the flowers from 792 living species.

    They mapped the distribution of these features on to the evolutionary tree of flowering plants enabling them to build a picture of what flowers looked like at key points in their history – including the last common ancestor of all living flowers.

    The first flower is reconstructed with petal-like structures arranged in a whorl, so each petal appears in the same plane, like a common lily (but with more whorls), rather than in a spiral, where petals overlap in a spiral arrangement around the stem, like a lotus.

    “For some of the features we studied, the result was surprising, especially the fact that organs (such as sepals and petals and the stamens) were probably arranged in whorls instead of spirals, as commonly assumed for the ancestral flower,” said Hervé Sauquet.

    Sex evolution in flowers has been highly debated. Flowers can be unisexual or bisexual and this study infers a bisexual early flower with both male and female organs.

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