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Smithsonian Launches Project to Capture Plant Genomic Diversity

NEW YORK (GenomeWeb) – The Smithsonian's National Museum of Natural History announced today a project to capture the genomic diversity of half the world's living plant genera over a two-year period. 

The effort includes the museum's Global Genome Initiative, as well as resources from the US Botanic Garden, the Smithsonian Gardens, the US Department of Agriculture's US National Arboretum, and the Global Genome Biodiversity Network. It comes at a time when the rate of species extinction for all life has been estimated to be up to 100 times higher than normal, the Smithsonian said. 

Initially, researchers will gather samples from gardens in the Washington DC area starting with living plant genera within the holdings of the US Botanic Garden, the Smithsonian Gardens, and the US National Arboretum. Field teams will collect plant samples in partner gardens' holdings that originate from across the world, ranging from Hawaii's rainforests to Madagascar's deserts. 

Plant tissues will be preserved using the Global Genome Initiative's standardized research-grade genomic sampling protocols and permanently stored in the Smithsonian's biorepository, while the US National Herbarium at the National Museum of Natural History will house a pressed specimen of each plant. The samples will be accessible through the Global Genome Biodiversity Network's data portal. 

"Now more than ever, the Smithsonian is dedicated to increasing our knowledge about life on Earth through emerging genomic technologies and capabilities," Smithsonian Interim Under Secretary for Science John Kress said in a statement. "Partnering with botanical gardens around the world is an essential step in opening new doors to the hidden benefits that can emerge from the world's plant genomes." 

Global Genome Initiative Director Jonathan Coddington said that the collaboration "comes at an urgent time when the scientific community's access to the world's plant genomes — the blueprint of life — is limited due to biodiversity loss and lackluster genomic research infrastructure." He added that the partners are now focused on developing additional collaborations with botanic gardens worldwide "to preserve and unlock the genomic mysteries of plants."