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.
Electronic medical records now exist for millions of people. The data locked within them represent a giant trove that researchers could potentially mine to uncover lifesaving secrets. Now scientists have delved into these records to complete the first large-scale analysis of genetic variants and the medical problems linked with them.
When Wendy Kramer decided to have a child through a sperm donor, she didn’t know she would one day become the biggest advocate for donor-child rights in the United States, or that her son Ryan would be the first person to use his own DNA to find his real father.
It was 1990. Ms. Kramer wanted to conceive a child. So, like tens of thousands of women do each year around the world, she contacted her doctor. After carefully considering her options, she decided to take a donation from a California cryobank.
“Ten years later, I had a donor-conceived child who wanted to know who he was related to,” she says. Looking for answers, she started a Yahoo group in 2000 called the Donor Sibling Registry. “Basically, we were saying, ‘If Ryan wants to know if he has any half brothers and sisters, maybe he’s not the only one.’ Forty thousand people later, it turns out we weren’t the only ones.”