The Largest Known Genome: Unveiling Nature’s Genetic Giant 

In genetics, sizes often come with surprises. One tiny fern, Tmesipteris oblanceolata, also known as the Fork Fern, proved this phrase true, taking the scientific community by storm when it broke the record for the largest known genome. Researchers reported this discovery on May 31, 2024, stating that the plant, which is small enough to fit in the palm of your hand, harbors a full set of genetic instructions over 50 times the size of the human genome.

Tropical rainforest in New Caledonia with ferns and moss-covered trees
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Revolutionizing Food Security: How Biotechnology Contributes to Sustainability and Safety

field of crops/food

Projections from the United Nations suggest that the global population reached 8 billion in 2022. By 2030, the United Nations expect the population will grow to 8.5 billion (1).  In order to sustain the rapidly expanding global population, innovative approaches in the agriculture sector are required to ensure food security and safety while maintaining sustainable practices.

Centuries of cultivating crops and raising livestock have honed our current agricultural methods. In the 21st century, these techniques encounter persistent challenges. Environmental factors such as soil degradation, water scarcity, and climate change pose significant threats to production. Additionally, the constant risks posed by pests and diseases can devastate both crops and livestock.

Read more about how the current avian flu crosses species and affects livestock.

The agriculture sector’s challenge of feeding the world sustainably lies in the limited access to natural resources like land and water. Unfortunately, these resources don’t grow with our population, so we need to find a way to increase productivity per unit of land (2). Ideally, using less water and potentially harmful pesticides.

Biotechnology offers innovative solutions that support sustainable agriculture practices to not only enhance food production, but also increase nutritional value and safety of our food supply.

Biotechnology in Agriculture: Enhancing Crop Yield and Resilience:

For much of the history of agriculture, breeding programs have involved selectively breeding desirable traits to increase yield, quality, and resilience. In the age of biotechnology, agriculturalists are revolutionizing this practice with the help of cloning and CRISPR technologies.

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Rooted in Resilience: The Future of Pest-Resistant Crops

Sunlight illuminating crops growing in a field

Farmers everywhere strive to protect their crops and ensure a stable food supply while minimizing environmental harm. A promising approach to achieving this leverages a plant’s built-in defense mechanisms, reducing the need for chemical interventions. Many geneticists and agronomists lean on technologies that can automate and streamline nucleic acid extraction and pathogen detection to identify naturally pest resistant crops and, ultimately, keep up with the changing agricultural landscape.  

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Streamlining Disease Diagnostics to Protect Potato Crops

A potato farmer holds a handful of potatoes. Scientists are working to protect potato crops from disease.
The WSPCP works to provide seed potato growers with healthy planting stock

The mighty potato—the Midwest’s root vegetable of choice—is susceptible to a variety of diseases that, without proper safeguards, can spell doom for your favorite side dishes. Founded in 1913 and housed in the Department of Plant Pathology at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, the Wisconsin Seed Potato Certification Program (WSPCP) helps Wisconsin seed potato growers maintain healthy, profitable potato crops year-to-year through routine field inspections, a post-harvest grow-out and laboratory testing.

While WSPCP conducts visual inspections for various seed potato pathogens, their diagnostic laboratory testing is primarily focused on viruses such as Potato virus Y (PVY), which can cause yield reduction and tuber defects, along with select bacteria such as Dickeya and Pectobacterium species that cause symptoms like wilting, stem rot and tuber decay.

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Promega qPCR Grant Funds Genetic Database for Antarctic Krill

Boasting a biomass of roughly 400 million tons, Antarctic krill are a key source of food for a wide array of marine life, including sea birds, seals, penguins and whales. As with the rest of the oceanic ecosystem, krill are subject to rapidly shifting climate conditions, prompting scientists to seek a deeper understanding of how they might adapt to a changing environment.

Facing a general lack of genetic information on the species, Professors Cristiano De Pittà and Gabriele Sales from the Department of Biology at the University of Padova in Italy set out to define the krill transcriptome, or sequences of ribonucleic acid (RNA), and in doing so facilitated the discovery of key gene sequences that may play important roles in krill reproduction and survival.

In recent years, there have been concerns about potential impacts to the krill population from ocean warming and commercial fishing operations. Mapping the krill transcriptome may offer scientists crucial insight into the effects of climate change and anthropogenic activity on the dynamics of the Antarctic ecosystem. Doing so is no small feat. Though krill may be miniscule, their genome is 15 times the size of the human genome.

To this end, the research groups of De Pittà and Sales established the database KrillDB, providing a single resource where scientists can access a comprehensive catalogue of krill genes and RNA transcripts. This database represented a powerful bioinformatic tool for examining molecular processes in krill. Funded in part by the Promega 2019 qPCR Grant Program, researchers subsequently rolled out an updated database, KrillDB2, which includes improvements to the quality and breadth of the sequences covered and the information associated. Their corresponding study, published summer 2022 in Scientific Reports, identified a series of genes involved in the krill molting cycle, the reproductive process and sexual maturation, and included never-before reported insights into the expression of microRNA precursors and their effect on krill physiology.

The 2019 Promega qPCR Grant Program offered recipients $10,000 in free PCR reagents and related products, as well as access to Promega technical services and training teams. 

Researcher and awardee Alberto Biscontin said of the grant’s impact on their project: “RNA sequencing approaches allow us to determine the level of expression of thousands of genes with a single experiment. The standard in the field is to define transcript expression levels by quantitative RT-PCR to technically validate RNA-seq results. We have been relying on the GoTaq® qPCR solutions by Promega for years.” He added, “We have used the GoTaq® 1-Step RT-qPCR System to compare the level of expression of candidate genes with those obtained from RNA-seq analysis. This allowed us to verify at any time the reliability of our bioinformatics pipelines.”

In the future, researchers plan to maintain the KrillDB2 database with the latest genome and transcriptome sequencing data, to provide the most comprehensive integrative analysis possible. They intend to develop a multi-crustaceans database to support future comparative genomics studies. The KrillDB2 database may also serve as a model to develop other databases for similar species.

Learn more about the GoTaq® 1-Step RT-qPCR System.

Read more about the 2019 qPCR Grant winners.  

We’re committed to supporting scientists who are using molecular biology to make a difference. Learn more about our qPCR Grant program.  

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