The genome of a small plant is providing biofuels researchers with information that could influence the development of candidate biofuel feedstock plants and offering botanists long-awaited insights into plant evolution. Published online May 5, 2011 in Science Express, a team of researchers including DOE JGI’s Dan Rokhsar and Igor Grigoriev used a comparative genomics approach on Selaginellamoellendorffiiand 14 other plants up and down the phylogenetic tree to identify the core genes likely to be present in a common ancestor to land plants.
“When you burn coal, you’re burning Selaginella’s ancestors,” said Purdue University botanist Jody Banks, who led the 2005 DOE JGI Community Sequencing Program project.
She noted that the Selaginella research community has grown up around the availability of the genome since 2009 through the DOE JGI’s plant portal Phytozome. She also said the spikemoss genome revealed the transition from mosses to plants with vascular systems involved fewer genes than going from a non flower-producing vascular plant to one that does.
The spikemoss genome is already proving useful for biofuels researchers. For example, Banks’ colleague Clint Chapple, a coauthor on the paper and a Purdue colleague, has been using the Selaginella genome to study the pathways by which the three different types of lignin are synthesized in plants. He and his team have used enzymes from the lignin-synthesizing pathway in Selaginella to modify the canonical lignin-producing pathway in Arabidopsis to produce the polymer.