‘23andMe for trees’: UC Davis scientists map genome for two giant California trees

A research team including UC Davis scientists has mapped the genome of two of California’s biggest trees, making the research and data publicly available Tuesday.

The newly mapped genomes of the coastal redwood and the giant sequoia are each more complex than the human genome, which has 3 billion base pairs of DNA. The giant sequoia has 8 billion pairs and the coast redwood has 27 billion pairs.

The landmark research comes amid the five-year Redwood Genome Project, which launched in late 2017, UC Davis said in a news release. That project has a goal of sequencing redwood and sequoia “mega-genomes” in order to make better forest management plans possible.

“We’re trying to build a 23andMe for trees, where a manager sends in their samples and gets a risk evaluation of their forest populations, if not individual trees,” UC Davis plant sciences Professor David Neale said in a statement. “Completing the sequences of the coast redwood and giant sequoia genomes is the first step.”

The technology and methodology necessary to map the entire genomes for those two species has existed less than a decade, UC Davis said.

About 95 percent of the ancient coastal redwood range and a third of the giant sequoia range have been logged over the past 150 years, according to the news release.

The research was a collaboration between UC Davis, Johns Hopkins University and the Save the Redwoods League.

Michael McGough anchors The Sacramento Bee’s breaking news reporting team, covering public safety and other local stories. A Sacramento native and lifelong capital resident, he interned at The Bee while attending Sacramento State, where he earned a degree in journalism.