Ginkgo project key in effort toward first-ever tree microbiome
Botanists at Harvard's Arnold Arboretum know a lot about the 35-foot ginkgo tree near the sprawling park's Walter Street gate.
They know it was rooted and planted by Peter del Tredici, who in 1989 took a four-inch cutting directly from one of the few remaining wild ginkgos in eastern China. They know it is one of 55 ginkgos growing in the Arboretum today. They also know it has the potential to live 1,000 years.
But even del Tredici, now a senior research scientist at the Arboretum, doesn't know everything about the tree. That's why del Tredici and Arboretum Director William (Ned) Friedman are collaborating with counterparts at the University of Colorado to learn more. Scientists in late June spent three days high off the ground, hoisted by the Arboretum's bucket truck. They collected 100 samples of the tree's microbial life, the location of each swab painstakingly recorded with 10 different variables.
Friedman said the project is part of the first-ever effort to define the entire community of microbes — the "microbiome" — of a tree. Microbiome research made headlines this spring when a consortium of scientists published the first human microbiome, detailing the microbial community of healthy humans. That research emphasized that the trillions of microbes from some 1,000 species aren't just along for the ride, they play important roles in digestion, immunity, and other bodily functions.