Genetic Code of a Birch Tree Sequenced For First Time

First Posted: Nov 21, 2012 06:35 AM EST

For the first time the genetic code of a birch tree has been sequenced by researchers at Queen Mary, university of London.

This information will help researchers gain more insight into the genome and its ability to resist diseases and to follow its growth pattern.

Belonging to the family of Betulaceae this broadleaved deciduous hardwood tree commonly known as birch has about sixty species left around the world. They are an essential part of the Boreal forest located around the North Pole, which is the world's largest land-based ecosystem. 

The team sequenced the genome of a dwarf birch tree from Scotland.

Lead researcher Dr Richard Buggs, from Queen Mary's School of Biological and Chemical Sciences said: "Dwarf birch is an excellent model for birch genomics, as its small size makes it easy to grow and experiment with, and it has a smaller genome than some other birch species. This genome sequence is a valuable resource for scientists studying birch trees around the world."

The British Birch population is threatened with an American pest named bronze birch borer. This beetle is a great threat to birch trees in North America. The British birch may also show low resistance to this pest and this can spread widespread devastation once it  enters UK.

Alan Watson Featherstone, executive director of Trees for Life, a charity that conserves dwarf birch near Loch Ness, said: "This is a tremendous breakthrough. Together with our woodland restoration work at Dundreggan, where we have one of the greatest concentrations of dwarf birch in Scotland, it will do much to benefit the conservation of this important species."

Queen Mary, conservationists Trees for Life, and Highland Birchwoods are partnering to supervise a PhD student, James Borrell, who is surveying the genetic diversity of dwarf birch populations in Scotland.

James said: "This newly sequenced genome will be a hugely valuable tool in our effort to conserve this species. We are building on this to survey the genomic diversity of dwarf birch trees in Britain to inform management strategies."

The finding is published in the journal Molecular Ecology.

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