Humans may be the most complex living organisms on earth, but their genome is dwarfed in size by the loblolly pine.
The tree's genome -- seven times longer than the human genome -- recently become the longest genome ever sequenced, thanks to a group of hard-working plant scientists.
“It’s a huge genome," David Neale, a professor of plant sciences at the University of California, Davis, told redOrbit. "But the challenge isn’t just collecting all the sequence data. The problem is assembling that sequence into order."
Neale and his colleagues hope their work will help scientists better understand how plants evolve. Their research may also help tree experts breed new and improved loblolly pines -- the hardy tree accounts for the vast majority of America's paper products, and is being developed as a new biofuel source.
“Loblolly pine plays an important role in American forestry," said Sonny Ramaswamy, director of USDA’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture -- the agency that funded the research project. "Now that we’ve unlocked its genetic secrets, loblolly pine will take on even greater importance as we look for new sources of biomass to drive our nation’s bioeconomy and ways to increase carbon sequestration and mitigate climate change."
The project has been ongoing since 2012, but now that scientists have found more efficient computerized techniques for sorting through the massive amounts of genetic data, scientists say they'll soon be able to sequence even larger genomes.