UC Berkeley, Joint Genome Institute target chloroplasts for clues to green plant evolution

Berkeley - As biologists try to tease out the finer details of the green plant family tree, one key may lie in the cellular organelle - the chloroplast - that makes green plants green.

As the photosynthetic factory of the plant cell, the chloroplast contains its own complement of genes distinct from the comparably sized mitochondrial genome in the energy center of the cell or the much larger genome in the cell nucleus.

"The chloroplast genome can be more informative in some ways than the complete nuclear genome, and easier to analyze than plant mitochondrial DNA," said Brent Mishler, professor of integrative biology at the University of California, Berkeley, and director of the Jepson and University Herbaria.

Mishler is one of nine principal investigators on a new project, supported by $3 million over five years from the National Science Foundation, to isolate and sequence chloroplast and mitochondrial genomes from 50 to 100 representative plants, drawing on the expertise of the U.S. Department of Energy's Joint Genome Institute (JGI) in Walnut Creek, Calif. The grant was among the largest of seven collaborative projects funded last month by NSF's "Assembling the Tree of Life" program.

The biologists will compare chloroplast genomes, as well as mitochondrial genomes and nuclear genes, along with morphological characteristics to determine plant relationships among the more ancient plant groups such as the mosses, algae and ferns. Their work will complement that of on-going projects looking at other branches of the green plant family tree, such as the well-studied seed plants.

"The whole nuclear genome is enormous and it's very difficult technically to get the same portions of a genome out from a lot of different organisms," said co-PI Jeffrey L. Boore, a scientist at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, head of the evolutionary genomics laboratory at JGI and an adjunct associate professor of integrative biology at UC Ber

Contact: Robert Sanders
University of California - Berkeley

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