New Tool for Untangling the Loblolly Pine Genome

Nurul Faridi with the new laser capture microdissection microscope. Photo by Texas A&M AgriLife Communications.
Nurul Faridi with the new laser capture microdissection microscope. Photo by Texas A&M AgriLife Communications.

Plucking a chromosome out of a single cell is an intricate business. But that’s exactly what U.S. Forest Service Southern Research Station (SRS) scientists and partners at Texas A&M University will be able to do with a new laser capture microdissection microscope.

The microscope has a laser beam 10 times thinner than a human hair, making it possible to isolate single cells or chromosomes from tissues.

“One of the most exciting applications for us is to be able to isolate individual chromosomes from tree and other plant cells,” says Nurul Faridi, research geneticist at the SRS Southern Institute of Forest Genetics. One of the species Faridi and colleague Claudio Casola of Texas A&M University are focusing on is loblolly pine (Pinus taeda).

Loblolly pine’s entire genome has already been sequenced, but sequencing is only one step towards understanding the species. Its genome is about eight times longer than the human genome, and scientists do not yet know how the genetic information is organized across the tree’s 12 pairs of chromosomes.

Faridi and his colleagues have previously microdissected one loblolly pine chromosome, but the new microscope will allow them to isolate and amplify others.“Ultimately, we hope to generate high quality assemblies of all the loblolly pine chromosomes,” says Faridi. Understanding where on the chromosomes each of the 80,000 genes are located will help scientists understand how loblolly pine, as well as other conifers, adapt to different environmental conditions.

SRS and Texas A&M University, partners in research for almost a century now, purchased the microscope together. The microscope has applications in medicine, agriculture, and other disciplines, and will benefit both institutions for years to come.

For more information, email Nurul Faridi at nfaridi@tamu.edu

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