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white oak tree

Old Love Affairs in Oaks

To most people, majestic trees like this white oak are the stuff of wine and whiskey barrels, flooring and furniture, red fall color and shade from the sun. But to biology professor Paul Manos and postdoc John McVay, they’re part of a story. By analyzing the genetic similarities across 81 species, the researchers have reconstructed the relationships among different oaks as they diverged from one another over 30 million years. In white oaks, they found, species that barely overlap today once lived and loved in the same locations, interbreeding and exchanging genes that are still discernible in their genetic code.