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ORNL: Moss genome study identifies two new species

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A team from Oak Ridge National Laboratory, Duke University and other institutions studying Sphagnum moss have identified two new species in North America, and they are learning how evolution may affect the species’ role in carbon storage.

Researchers looking at moss samples from far-flung habitats used genome sequencing and advanced computation to identify differences within the Sphagnum magellanicum complex. So far, they discovered S. magni and S. diabolicum, which differ in geographic distribution and may have evolved in response to climate.

“By understanding their evolution and genetic diversity, we can start to link some of the traits of these organisms to their impact on carbon cycling,” said ORNL’s Bryan Piatkowski.

Sphagnum is the chief engineer of peatlands in the Northern Hemisphere, where one-third of terrestrial carbon is stored. The moss’s response to warmer temperatures can inform predictions about how much carbon will stay locked away in soils or be released to the atmosphere. — Stephanie Seay

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