From the tiny Antarctic midge to the towering loblolly pine, scientists this year cracked open a variety of genetic instruction manuals to learn about some of Earth’s most diverse inhabitants. Highlights from 2014 include:
Analysis of 99 Ebola virus genomes helped scientists pinpoint the origin of Sierra Leone’s outbreak to a healer who had contracted the disease in Guinea, confirming that the virus spread through contact with infected humans, not animals (SN: 9/20/14, p. 7).
2. Antarctic midge
With just 99 million chemical subunits of DNA, the genome of this petite polar bug is the smallest of any known insect. Life in a bitterly frigid climate may have shrunk the midge’s genetic blueprints, researchers suggest (SN: 9/20/14, p. 4).
3. Loblolly pine
Besting the Norway spruce — last year’s titleholder for largest genome — by just 2 billion DNA subunits, the skyscraping loblolly pine holds the new record for lengthiest genetic instruction book, with 22 billion letters of DNA code (SN: 5/17/14, p. 4).
The common housefly may be somewhat of a superbug. Researchers unveiled a genome full of DNA snippets that could help the insect thrive in dirty dwellings — buzzing between dung and decomposing carcasses without getting sick (SN Online: 10/15/14).
Scientists decoded the genome of a plant metabolically adapted to a low-water life. The boldly colored orchid Phalaenopsis equestris may use a slew of duplicated genes to “breathe” carbon dioxide while staying hydrated.