Australia: Iconic flower's genetic puzzle revealed

Scientists led by UNSW have pieced together the complex genetic puzzle of the floral emblem of New South Wales, the iconic Australian waratah. The team of researchers led by Stephanie Chen, a Ph.D. candidate from the Australian Institute of Botanical Science and at UNSW's School of Biotechnology and Biomolecular Sciences, have assembled the complete genome of the Telopea speciosissima for the first time, further bolstering international flora conservation efforts.

All living things have a genome, which is an organism's complete set of genetic information, consisting of DNA. Ms. Chen said sequencing a genome was like putting together a puzzle without a picture on the box. "Imagine you're putting together a puzzle and it has billions and billions of pieces—with the help of three different sequencing technologies, we've been able to link all the pieces that are the bits of DNA together, ultimately revealing the puzzle," she said.

"By mapping genomes, we gain a better understanding of the natural world. Understanding the genetic make-up of the waratah will give us better insight into its evolution and environmental adaption, ultimately helping us better conserve it, as well as inform breeding efforts."

Endemic to NSW, the waratah has been the floral emblem of the state since 1962 and was one of the first Australian plant species collected for cultivation in Europe. Despite its cultural, commercial, and ecological significance, there was no reference genome for the waratah and few within its Proteaceae family of more than 1500 species, with genetic studies typically focussed on species of agricultural importance.

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