DNA mapping will include Sonoma County redwoods as hedge to climate change

Guy Kovner, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

The Redwood Genome Project

New technology is coming to the aid of the world’s tallest trees, the coast redwoods that blanket Sonoma County hills and date back to the time of dinosaurs.

Climate change has not yet impacted the most iconic of California trees, which live for centuries and in some cases millennia, sheathed in soft, thick reddish bark that shields them from fire and insect damage.The forest giants are thriving. Despite the rampant logging that for 150 years swept over their historic range having been virtually eliminated, organizations that protect and manage thousands of acres of redwoods in Sonoma County and the North Coast are looking for ways to fortify them against the anticipated stress of rising temperatures.

One answer may be deeply embedded in the trees themselves.The Save the Redwoods League, a San Francisco-based nonprofit that has helped protect nearly 200,000 acres of forestland in more than 60 parks and preserves, is now betting $2.6 million on a 5-year project to unravel the remarkably complex DNA of the redwoods, and ultimately gain new tools for their conservation.

“The Redwood Genome Project is our opportunity to apply the world’s most cutting-edge science to save the redwoods for the next century,” said Emily Burns, the league’s director of science. “With genetic insight at our disposal, we will be able to enhance protection for the world’s most beloved trees.”

Already underway, the project has begun teasing out the genetic code of a redwood from Butano State Park in San Mateo County. The code, expressed in the DNA of every living cell, amounts to a “parts list” for the entire organism, said David Neale, a UC Davis professor of plant genetics who is project partner.

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