Aussie scientists piece together genomic puzzle of iconic flower

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Sydney, Jan 12

 Australian botanists have assembled the genomic sequence of one of Australia's most significant and iconic flowers, the New South Wales Waratah.

The team of researchers, led by the Australian Institute of Botanical Science, said the sequencing, published in the Molecular Ecology Resources journal on Wednesday, would play a vital role in the future conservation of the plant.

The research would allow future varieties of the flowering plant to be bred with protection against pests and disease. It would also provide a stepping stone for the sequencing of other closely related plants, Xinhua news agency reported.

Lead researcher Stephanie Chen, from the Institute's Research Centre for Ecosystem Resilience and (University of New South Wales) UNSW Sydney, said the process of sequencing was like "putting together a puzzle and it has billions and billions of pieces."

"With the help of three different sequencing technologies, we've been able to link all the pieces that are the bits of DNA together, ultimately revealing the puzzle," she said.

The Waratah, or Telopea, has been the floral emblem of the Australian state of New South Wales (NSW) since 1962 and grows exclusively in the state. Its image has been incorporated into state government branding and holds a unique spot in Australia's floral diversity.

"By mapping genomes, we gain a better understanding of the natural world," said Chen.

"Understanding the genetic make-up of the Waratah will give us better insight into its evolution and environmental adaption, ultimately helping us better conserve it, as well as inform breeding efforts."

Dr Richard Edwards, Senior Lecturer in Genomics and Bioinformatics at UNSW, said having this mapping at the chromosome level would also play an important role in understanding the plant species' evolutionary history.

"The large-scale changes captured could be particularly important for understanding how Waratahs have evolved into different species, or when and where they might be able to form fertile hybrids."

The Waratah plant used in the study has since been propagated and planted as part of the living collection at the Blue Mountains Botanic Garden Mount Tomah.


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