New Initiative to Sequence the Redwood Genomes

Sequoia National Park.
Sequoia National Park.
I’m so excited to share the news today that we are sequencing the coast redwood and giant sequoia genomes. While the first steps in this project will happen in the laboratory, the goal is to rapidly put this new understanding of redwood DNA to work for conservation. To support vigorous coast redwood and giant sequoia forests in the decades ahead, we will need to protect not only the remarkable structure of the forest, but also protect the genetic diversity that underlies it.

In the coast redwood forest today are large expanses of young stands that lost their grandeur during past timber harvests. How much of the natural genetic diversity of these forests was lost when so many redwoods were cut down? And in the giant sequoia groves, are the smaller groves more vulnerable to inbreeding because there are fewer trees? Low genetic diversity in the forest could make our beloved redwoods more vulnerable to disease, environmental stress, and climate change because there may not be enough individual trees that can survive adverse events.

By sequencing the redwood genomes, we will be able to identify forests with high genetic diversity and prioritize them for protection. In forests where genetic diversity is low, we will work to make sure no further diversity is lost. This effort is NOT about genetically modifying redwoods, we believe there is plenty of natural genetic diversity in the forest, we simply need to find it and protect it.

The sequencing effort is no small task, especially because the coast redwood genome is larger than any genome sequenced before! Luckily, we’re working with experts at the University of California, Davis and Johns Hopkins to decode the genomes and develop forest genetic screening tools. Dr. David Neale, Dr. Alison Scott, and Dr. Steven Salzberg will lead the research team and collaborate with the League and public land managers to help redwood forest stewards gain the genetic insight they need.

Learn more about the redwood genome project and how we’ll be using this science to protect the coast redwood and giant sequoia forests.

About the author

Emily Burns, the League’s former Director of Science, led the research program that includes the Redwoods and Climate Change Initiative. She holds a PhD in Integrative Biology on the impacts of fog on coast redwood forest flora from the University of California, Berkeley.

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