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Ginkgo biloba

The Ginkgo biloba genome

Wikimedia Commons The gingko tree, which emerged 270 million years ago, has nearly 41,000 genes and is regarded as a living fossilWikimedia Commons

It was a challenging task to complete the first version of the genome for Ginkgo biloba, one of the oldest tree species that still exists in nature. Its genome, made of 10 billion base pairs, is three times the size of the human genome and 80 times that of Arabidopsis thaliana, which is among the plants most widely studied by biologists. To sequence the nearly 41,000 Gingko genes—humans have about 23,000 genes—Chinese researchers had a large computational capacity to reconstruct the plant’s genome, which has a very high number of repetitions (Gigascience, November 21, 2016). But it was worth the effort. Gingko trees, which originated in China and grow to about 30 meters in height, are considered to be one of the world’s oldest living plant species. There are fossils dating back 270 million years, and in all that time their shape and structure have changed very little. For this reason, the species is regarded as a living fossil. Learning the details of its genome, the researchers say, could help scientists better understand the evolution of terrestrial plants and the gingko’s high resistance to pests and adverse environmental conditions. With thousands of years of longevity, the tree has withstood glacial periods that wiped out other species.