Aggregated News

graphic featuring a green genome and fern leaves

Last year, Jaume Pellicer led a team of fellow scientists into a forest on Grande Terre, an island east of Australia. They were in search of a fern called Tmesipteris oblanceolata. Standing just a few inches tall, it was not easy to find on the forest floor.

“It doesn’t catch the eye,” said Dr. Pellicer, who works at the Botanical Institute of Barcelona in Spain. “You would probably step on it and not even realize it.”

The scientists eventually managed to spot the nondescript fern. When Dr. Pellicer and his colleagues studied it in the lab, they discovered it held an extraordinary secret. Tmesipteris oblanceolata has the largest known genome on Earth. As the researchers described in a study published on Friday, the fern’s cells contain more than 50 times as much DNA as ours do.

If you find it strange that such a humble plant has such a gigantic genome, scientists do, too. The enigma emerged in the 1950s, when biologists discovered that the double helix of DNA encodes genes. Each gene consists of a series of genetic letters...