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Smithsonian Scientists Want To Save Plant Genomic Diversity Before Next 'Mass Extinction'

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Scientists from the Smithsonian's National Museum of Natural History will set out to collect the genomes of about half of the living plant types in the world in anticipation of the next mass extinction of species.

Members of the Global Genome Initiative have been tasked to capture and preserve different plant genomes in under two years, before the start of the next mass die-off of species, which scientists have projected. Experts believe the species extinction rate for all living organisms may be 100 times faster than the natural rate.

The Global Genome Initiative is expected to be catapulted closer to reaching its objective of preserving the genomes of half of the living plant species on Earth through networked biorepositories located in different parts of the world.

The researchers from the Smithsonian will begin their collection of samples from different gardens in and around Washington, D.C. Their first target locations are the U.S. National Arboretum, the U.S. Botanic Garden and the Smithsonian's own gardens.

"Now more than ever, the Smithsonian is dedicated to increasing our knowledge about life on Earth through emerging genomic technologies and capabilities," John Kress, interim Under Secretary for Science of the Smithsonian, said.

"Partnering with botanical gardens around the world is an essential step in opening new doors to the hidden benefits that can emerge from the world's plant genomes."

The plant samples that Global Genome Initiative teams will gather in the nation's capital include species that originally came from Hawaiian rainforests and Madagascar deserts. Tissues from these samples will be placed in cryogenic containers and stored in liquid nitrogen. They will then be deposited to the biorepository in the Smithsonian for preservation.

Pressed specimen of each collected plant will also be placed in the U.S. National Herbarium.

Director Jonathan Coddington of the Global Genome Initiative explained that the collaborative endeavor between the Botanic Garden, the National Arboretum and the Smithsonian provides scientists with access to plant genomes from around the world.

He said that the project comes at a point when the genomes are limited because of the loss of biodiversity and insufficient research on genomes.

Coddington added that the scientists are focused on establishing further collaborations with international botanic gardens in order to spread the importance of preserving and unlocking the mysteries of plant genomes.

Photo: Robert Lyle Bolton | Flickr 

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