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17 Jun 2019

Unlocking our living fossil's genetic code

The botanical equivalent of mapping a Tyrannosaurus’ genome is underway with scientists from the Royal Botanic Garden Sydney and Deakin University launching the first genome sequencing project to protect one of the world’s oldest tree lineages – the Wollemi Pine.

More than double the human genome

The prehistoric plant Wollemia nobilis was thought to be long extinct until it was discovered in 1994. 

Senior Principal Research Scientist from the Royal Botanic Garden Sydney Dr Maurizio Rossetto said it will be the first-time scientists will have the complete DNA sequence of this critically endangered conifer. 

“The Wollemi Pine’s genome is more than double the human genome and once it is assembled it will tell us a story about this rare plant we’ve never been able to read before,” Dr Rossetto said.

“Unlocking the Wollemi Pine’s genetic code will help us better understand one of the biggest threats it faces within its vulnerable natural population – the deadly disease Phytophthora cinnamomi,” Dr Rossetto said.  

ABC Radio
Mapping a genome is like travelling through time. We will discover when the Wollemi Pine was once more widespread, which could help identify better opportunities for future translocation projects.
Senior Principal Research Scientist Dr Maurizio Rossetto

Cracking the genetic code of iconic Australian species 

Manager of the new Deakin Genomics Centre Associate Professor Larry Croft said 600 billion DNA bases of the Wollemi Pine have already been sequenced, which are counted in DNA language using the letters T, A, G and C.

"It’s a fitting project to launch Australia’s only genomic facility focused on plant and animal research," said Associate Professor Croft. 

“If you were to print that data onto A4 sheets of paper and then line them up, it could easily go around the Earth’s equator! 

“Through our new Deakin Genomics Centre we’ll be able to crack the genetic codes of other iconic Australian species too," said Associate Professor Croft. 

Whether that’s protecting a prehistoric tree or a tiger quoll, the science of genomics and the methods of DNA sequencing are remarkably similar and are a vital part of conservation science.
Deakin Genomics Centre Manager Associate Professor Larry Croft

Saving our Species

​With fewer than 100 Wollemi Pine plants left in their wild habitat, this research will compliment current and future conservation initiatives under the NSW Government’s Saving our Species program to protect the Wollemi's future. 

It is expected the full results from this project will published in July 2020. 

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