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Moss Genome Offers Insight Into Plants' Terrestrial Beginnings; Could Aid Biofuel Research

NEW YORK (GenomeWeb News) - The genome of a moss species could help tell the tale of how some plants moved from aquatic environs and began to dwell on land, and also could help facilitate basic research of biofuels, according to a new study from the Joint Genome Institute and around 40 other partnering institutions.
Researchers at the US Department of Energy’s JGI, Washington University in St. Louis, the University of Leeds, Japan’s National Institute for Basic Biology, the University of Freiburg, and others have sequenced the genome of the moss Physcomitrella patens, making it the first nonvascular land plant to be sequenced. The study is published in today’s online journal Science Express.
Physcomitrella, which has about 50 percent more genes than humans — around 36,000 — and around 500 million nucleotides is the first bryophyte to be sequenced, according to the researchers.
Bryophytes are nonvascular land plants that do not have specialized phloem or xylem for circulating fluids, but have their own specialized tissues for internal transport. These do not generate seeds or flowers but reproduce using spores.
The researchers assembled the genome into a 480 Mbp scaffold with coverage of around 98 percent. 
Physcomitrella is to flowering plants what the fruit fly is to humans; that is, in the same way that the fly and mouse have informed animal biology, the genome of this moss will advance our exploration of plant genes and their functions and utility,” JGI Director Eddy Rubin said in a statement. “Traits such as those that allow plants to survive and thrive on dry land will be useful in the selection and optimization of crops that may be domesticated for biomass-to-biofuels strategies.”
Washington University researcher Ralph Quantrano said that researchers will be able to study gene functions by deleting specific moss genes and replacing them with genes from crop plants to study comparatively how gene function evolved.

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