Filling gaps in understanding flowering plant evolution.
Stout camphor tree is one of the many plant species endemic to Taiwan. Conservation of stout camphor tree has become especially urgent as poachers have been illegally taking trees for cultivation of a specialised fungus used in traditional medicine and reported to have cancer-fighting agents.
A team of scientists lead by researchers at Academia Sinica’s Biodiversity Research Center in Taiwan have now decoded a complete genome sequence for the stout camphor tree.
In addition to its utility in the development of new cancer treatments, the stout camphor trees are a culturally important part of the broadleaf evergreen forests in Taiwan.
The aromatic and decay-resistant stout camphor tree wood is also used for high-end furniture and art production. The high value of stout camphor tree together with intensive deforestation over the past half century, and poor seed germination have contributed to the loss and fragmentation of natural populations.
Stout camphor tree along with magnolia, tulip tree, custard apple and nutmeg are “magnoliids”, a group comprising about six percent of all flowering plant diversity.
The new stout camphor tree genome sequence has enabled improved researchers to pinpoint the position of magnoliids within the flowering plant tree of life while at the same time elucidating the complex history of magnoliid genome evolution.
Interestingly, analyses revealed two rounds of ancient genome duplications since the magnoliids diverged from other flowering plant lineages approximately 150 million years ago. At the same time, genes involved in the production of diverse terpenoid compounds multiplied in the ancestral stout camphor tree genome, contributing to its complex aromatic properties and wood chemistry.
Additional analyses were able to detect evidence for steady declines in stout camphor tree populations over the last million years.
Corresponding author Dr. Isheng J. Tsai hypothesises that recent losses of stout camphor tree populations associated with over harvesting were predated by longer term declines driven by the complex geological history of Taiwan.
Dr. Tsai also emphasised that the reference genome will be useful for current efforts to monitor and maintain genetic diversity in remaining for stout camphor tree populations.
The findings were published in Nature Plants. [APBN]