A Joshua tree towers over the Mojave desert. Researchers are trying to crowdfund their analysis of the tree's genome. Photo by Christopher Smith/Willamette University
CREVE COEUR, Mo., March 14 (UPI) -- A group of scientists at universities in the United States and Canada are aiming to raise $8,500 by March 24 for the Joshua Tree Genome Project, an effort to sequence and study the Joshua tree's genome.
The iconic Joshua tree is native to the American Southwest's Mojave Desert, one of the driest places on Earth. Scientists are worried the tree is disappearing as a result of climate change, and could go extinct within the next century.
By sequencing and studying the tree's genome, researchers hope to better understand the environmental threats to the Joshua tree and the many species that rely upon it.
"Understanding the genome will help us make conservation plans that allow Joshua tree to adapt to changing climates and environments," Christopher Irwin Smith, a biologist at Willamette University, said in a press release. "The genome could also answer many important questions about the evolutionary history of this iconic desert species."
"The data will provide our first detailed look into the Joshua tree genome," added Michael McKain, an evolutionary biologist and post-doctoral associate at the Donald Danforth Plant Science Center in Missouri. "It will allow us to untangle Joshua trees' diversity at the most basic level, and identify how major evolutionary events contributed to its unique form."
The researchers hope to find gene variations that may allow botanists to cultivate trees better able to survive rising temperatures.
The crowdfunding effort is one 17 research projects participating in Experiment.com's Liberal Arts College Pilot Program. The project that raises the most money will earn an extra $2,000 from Experiment.com.
So far, the Joshua Tree Genome Project has raised $4,000.