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Podcast: Supercomputing the Evolution of Flowers

Thomas Juenger, Department of Integrative Biology, The University of Texas at Austin.

Thomas Juenger, Department of Integrative Biology, The University of Texas at Austin.

In this podcast, scientists describe how they are using TACC supercomputers to study the evolution of flowers.

Scientists have used supercomputers to find what they say is the best evidence yet that a plant’s genes sensitive to cold and drought will help it adapt to changes in its environment. What they studied in plants was gene expression, instructions coded in DNA that regulate how many proteins it makes. Gene expression gives rise to traits such as tolerance of cold or drought, and it can evolve through natural selection to help a plant cope with environments out of its comfort zone. The results of the computational biology study were published in the journal Molecular Biology and Evolution in September of 2014. In it scientists studied the flowering mustard weed Arabidopsis thaliana, known as a model plant in part because it has one of the smallest genomes, which was completely sequenced in 2000.

2The science team first took Arabidopsis genes found in the lab from a prior study that respond to cold and drought. They then compared those to reference genomic data from over a thousand strains collected throughout Europe and Asia. Finding associations was like finding a needle in a haystack, and to do that they enlisted the help of the iPlant collaborative and they used the Ranger and Lonestar supercomputers of the Texas Advanced Computing Center. The study was co-authored by Thomas Juenger, a faculty member in the Department of Integrative Biology of the University of Texas at Austin.

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