Guest post: The Largest Organism in the World
I just received this gem from Tony Seidel; here’s Tony to tell us about one big fungus and the tree that is even bigger:
Although this course focuses on the microscopic life, it is sometimes important to take a step back and look at the big picture and see how it relates. The Armillaria ostoyae, better known in Oregon as the Humongous Fungus, was recognized as the largest living organism. It is a 100 ton fungus covers 3.7 in Oregon’s Blue Mountains. The title has recently been given to the Populus tremuloides, or quaking aspen, of Utah. This organism is much larger, sixty times the weight of the fungus at 6000 tons and covers about 0.2 square miles. This may not sound as extensive as the fungus, but its mass is much greater.
The root grows by sending out sprouts, or ramets, to the surface in for energy, which will eventually mature into tall quaking aspens. The quaking aspen trees are all connected and growing from one original root, making this group of trees one specimen. These aspen clones are sometimes mistaken for a forest of trees, when in reality they have identical DNA. One phenotypic response to their identical DNA is observable when their leaves turn colors in the autumn season. Ramets that are the same age will change the same color at the same time.
Modern DNA technology has allowed scientists at the University of Colorado to test the quaking aspens for genetic similarities. Dr. Jeffry Mitton, the lead researcher, along with Dr. Michael Grant and Dr. Yan Linhart, all aided in the testing and discovery of the largest organism. In order into compare the DNA, they studied the genetic variation in proteins. DNA analysis has become cheaper to perform now that the science of genetics is developing.
This technique of comparing DNA and proteins is also used frequently in microbiology. Microbial control within the human body is obtained by using antibiotic drugs. These antibiotics need to be selectively toxic so that our cells remain unharmed. Finding differences between our DNA and the microbe’s DNA will help our drugs to be more selective in their treatment. Now, genetics has been used to identify the smallest and largest organisms on the earth, which is an ever-changing statement with science and new discoveries.
What a phenomenal find! This is just one of many ways that genetics can help us view the world in a different way; it’s not several trees, it is all one plant. The next time you enter a so called “forest”, realize that you may only be at the tip of the iceberg.
http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2003/03/030327074535.htm (Humongous Fungus)