Background: Ginkgo biloba L. (Ginkgoaceae) is one of the most distinctive plants. It possesses a suite of fascinating characteristics including a large genome, outstanding resistance/tolerance to abiotic and biotic stresses, and dioecious reproduction, making it an ideal model species for biological studies. However, the lack of a high-quality genome sequence has been an impediment to our understanding of its biology and evolution.
Findings: The 10.61 Gb genome sequence containing 41,840 annotated genes was assembled in the present study. Repetitive sequences account for 76.58% of the assembled sequence, and long terminal repeat retrotransposons (LTR-RTs) are particularly prevalent. The diversity and abundance of LTR-RTs is due to their gradual accumulation and a remarkable amplification between 16 and 24 million years ago, and they contribute to the long introns and large genome. Whole genome duplication (WGD) may have occurred twice, with an ancient WGD consistent with that shown to occur in other seed plants, and a more recent event specific to ginkgo. Abundant gene clusters from tandem duplication were also evident, and enrichment of expanded gene families indicates a remarkable array of chemical and antibacterial defense pathways.
Conclusions: The ginkgo genome consists mainly of LTR-RTs resulting from ancient gradual accumulation and two WGD events. The multiple defense mechanisms underlying the characteristic resilience of ginkgo are fostered by a remarkable enrichment in ancient duplicated and ginkgo-specific gene clusters. The present study sheds light on sequencing large genomes, and opens an avenue for further genetic and evolutionary research.
Keywords: Evolution of LTR-RTs; Ginkgo genome; Gymnosperm evolution; Plant defense mechanism; Tandem gene duplication; Whole genome duplication.