Tiny Fern Found to Have Largest Genome on Earth

A rare fork fern found in the island nation of New Caledonia has become a world record holder. Scientists have discovered that the tiny plant, which grows in the trunks and branches of trees, has the largest genome of any living organism.

If unraveled, the DNA contained in a single cell of Tmesipteris oblanceolata would stand taller the Statue of Liberty. That is 50 times as much DNA as found in a human cell, which, if stretched end to end, would measure roughly the height of an adult man. The new discovery was recorded in the journal iScience.

“Who would have thought this tiny, unassuming plant that most people would likely walk past without notice, could bear a world-beating record in genome size,” said coauthor Ilia Leitch, a scientist at the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew. “This discovery also raises many new and exciting questions about the upper limits of what is biologically possible, and we hope to solve these mysteries one day.”

Tmesipteris oblanceolata has been honored with the title of Largest Genome by Guinness World Records. It supplants Paris japonica, a flowering plant from Japan, as the record holder.

Scientists note that the fern’s enormous genome may be something of a burden. Plants with more DNA tend to be slower-growing and need more nutrients than other plants. As such, they may be less able to cope with warming or other threats.


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