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For the Ferns

Researchers have sequenced fern genomes for the first time, Discover's D-brief blog reports.

Duke University's Kathleen Pryer tried for decades to get funding to sequence the water fern Azolla filiculoides, but was unsuccessful until she and her colleagues turned to the crowdfunding site, where they raised $22,160 from 123 people, according to the Boyce Thompson Institute, where first author Fay-Wei Li is based. That, it adds, enabled her and her colleagues to sequence not only A. filiculoides, but also Salvinia cucullata.

As Pryer and her colleagues report in Nature Plants, they sequenced the ferns using both the Pacific Biosciences and Illumina sequencing platforms and identified 20,201 and 19,914 high-confidence gene models, respectively, in Azolla and Salvinia. They also uncovered a fern-specific gene they appeared to have gotten from bacteria via horizontal gene transfer that provides them with resistance to insects.

Part of the reason why the researchers wanted to sequence Azolla is because of its symbiotic relationship with Nostoc azollae, a cyanobacterium that inhabits its leaves, the D-brief blog adds. The cyanobacterium stays with Azolla its whole life and is passed from Azolla parent to child, and Li tells D-brief they want to disentangle their evolutionary relationship.