Anyone who has taken a road trip through the Southeast has watched as countless loblolly pines swish past outside the window. Pinus taeda, a valuable cash crop used to make paper and lumber, blankets the region and grows as far north as Delaware.
Its quick growth rate and flexibility in thriving in different landscapes has led to the tree being a dominant presence—loblolly comprises more than half of the standing pine volume in the South, according to North Carolina State University.
Because of its ubiquitousness, the loblolly pine might seem to be an open book, a species whose usefulness means humans have long known what it is. But beneath the thick greyish bark that resembles a giant turtle’s scutes lies a secret only recently decoded. The DNA blueprint that makes a loblolly pine is comprised of some 22 billion base pairs, around seven times more than the genome that makes humans.
Now a research team of 37 scientists from 12 institutions—a big crew to fell a leviathan of a genome—has announced that they have used cutting-edge techniques to decipher the loblolly’s DNA. Their effort represents the largest genome sequenced to date and the most complete decoded conifer genome ever published.
A virtual supercomputer running on more than 239,000 computers around the world has successfully eavesdropped on a protein key to cancer’s progression in the body.
Researchers using Stanford University’s Folding@home, a distributed computational platform, have been able to describe the activation of a protein called Src kinase, a molecular switch that is believed to turn on the tumor-producing signals in cells that tell them to grow, spread and not self-destruct.
The team says it is the first time the protein has been modeled as it changes from an inactive state to an active one. Their insight could help develop new drugs that specifically target Src kinase.
(The gif above illustrates Folding@home’s simulated protein-folding steps from an uncoiled configuration to a complex, 3-D structure. The protein here is NTL9 and unrelated to Src kinase, the subject of this article. See the interesting video below. Courtesy Vijay Pande/Stanford.)