CNN Name the World’s Top Destinations for 2011

(CNN) Here’s wishing it’s somewhere unforgettable — and the time to plan your journey is now, as the New Year brings the customary yearning for a fresh start and the promise of new people and places.

To set your itinerary in motion, we sought out recommendations from three travel experts: Robert Reid, U.S. travel editor for Lonely Planet; Pauline Frommer, creator of Pauline Frommer’s guidebooks; and Martin Rapp, senior vice president of leisure sales at Altour.

Here are nine of their top destinations for 2011:

1. New York

A huge tourist destination in any year, the city will be especially unforgettable as it marks the 10th anniversary of the September 11 terrorist attacks next year.

Visitors who have been flocking to ground zero are finally expected to get a chance to pay their respects to the victims at the National September 11 Memorial, which is scheduled to open in time for the anniversary.

“It’s going to be a massive moment for New York,” Reid said. “It feels like the healing begins.”

Visitors also shouldn’t miss the High Line, once an abandoned elevated railway track that’s been turned into a popular park. It expands in the spring, to the delight of New Yorkers.

“It was like a secret garden in the middle of New York,” Frommer said. “It’s become a park that other urban centers are studying because it’s brought new life, a new vitality into the area below it.”

No wonder the Big Apple tops Lonely Planet’s list of top 10 cities for 2011.

2. New Zealand

The Rugby World Cup will be held next fall in New Zealand, adding excitement to an already popular destination.

Wellington, which brands itself as the “coolest little capital in the world,” will host some of the activities and hopes to attract fans who want to explore other parts of the country.

“It’s a great kind of springboard,” said Reid, who is planning a visit and is determined to learn the haka, the fierce Maori dance used to unsettle opponents before matches.

Wellington is known as “Wellywood,” thanks to a thriving film industry and director Peter Jackson, who is now working on “The Hobbit.” Indeed, fans of the “Lord of the Rings” films already know New Zealand for some of the stunning sites used in the trilogy.

Rapp also recommended the country for its “most fantastically luxurious lodges,” including The Farm at Cape KidnappersHuka Lodge and Otahuna Lodge.

3. Peruvian Amazon

When many people think of the Amazon, they think of Brazil, but Peru offers a great base for exploring the region: Iquitos, a metropolis of almost half a million people in the heart of the Peruvian jungle.

Iquitos is a fitting destination for 2011, which has been declared by the United Nations as the International Year of Forests.

“You can create your own adventures when you’re there,” Reid said.

It’s the biggest city you can’t drive to in the world, he added. You have to fly in or take a boat.

To experience the region in a unique way, Rapp recommended taking an Amazon River cruise from Iquitos on Delfin or Aqua Expeditions.

4. Barcelona, Spain

Visitors can get a chance to see La Sagrada Familia, the stunning but still unfinished Catholic basilica, like never before after a visit by Pope Benedict XVI in November spurred progress on the interior of the site, Frommer said.

“For the first time in years, most of the scaffolding there is gone,” she said.

“Everybody knows how astounding it is on the outside. The inside is just as glorious.”

Foodies have their own reasons to visit Barcelona and the surrounding region. El Bulli, chef Ferran Adria’s famous restaurant, closes for good next year.

But even if you can’t snag a reservation at the notoriously hard-to-get-into eatery, Barcelona is dotted with restaurants inspired by Adria’s cutting-edge cuisine, like Moo, which Frommer called “astounding.”

5. Norway

For lovers of the outdoors, Norway offers an especially outstanding experience, Rapp said. Adventurous travelers can go heli-skiing, paragliding and bungee jumping. (Rapp was considering a bungee jump himself during an upcoming summer trip to Norway.)

For a more mellow experience, hire a private boat on the fjords and go to little hotels that you can’t get to by road, or stay at the Amot Opera Farm for an unusual combination of accommodations and music.

“All of Scandinavia is really underestimated,” Rapp said.

“People [usually] go to the major cities, Copenhagen, Stockholm or Oslo, but the countryside is extraordinary. Truly majestic mountains, and the fjords are just unbelievable — they seem endless when you’re there.”

6. Albania

The top pick on Lonely Planet’s list of top 10 countries for 2011 may be a surprise for many people, but Albania gives travelers a taste of the Mediterranean without the crowds and the prices, Reid said.

The real rising destination is Gjirokastra, a city whose historic center is a UNESCO World Heritage site, he added.

“It’s this cobbled town with Ottoman-era mansions,” Reid said. “It’s a very atmospheric place that has a lot of history.”

With picturesque beaches, good food and a number of heritage sites, Albania won’t be off the beaten track for much longer, Lonely Planet says in its review.

7. Japan

Many people still have the misconception that Japan is too expensive to visit, but once you get there, it can be more affordable than a vacation in New York, Reid said.

Why go in 2011? The country is ramping up its tourism marketing efforts after some recent disappointing years, so the number of visitors is expected to rise soon.

“We think that the crowds are going to get worse. Maybe it’s time to think about it now,” Reid said.

For help with booking an affordable stay, he recommended visiting the International Tourism Center of Japan and looking intominshuku, traditional guest houses that offer very simple but clean and inexpensive accommodations. You might pay $40 a night in Tokyo, for example.

8. Guatemala

More than 10 years after the end of its civil war, Guatemala is coming into its own as a tourist destination, Frommer said.

The country is an appealing alternative for people looking to travel south of the border and trying to branch out beyond popular places like Costa Rica, she added. Once there, you’ll be amazed by the sites — and the low prices.

Lake Atitlan is one of the most beautiful places in the world. In fact, Aldous Huxley said it was more beautiful than Lake Como. I was there in March, and I would agree,” Frommer said.

She called the destination “a bargain wonderland.” A round-trip flight from New York cost Frommer $350, “decent hotels” charged as little as $35 a night, and a meal at a sit-down restaurant might set you back just $3, she said.

9. Bulgaria

Next year marks the 20th anniversary of the collapse of the Soviet Union, sparking interest in former Soviet bloc countries.

Reid’s favorite choice on that list is Bulgaria, which has the best Black Sea coastline for beach enthusiasts and offers great skiing in the mountains in the winter, he said.

“I love doing road trips in Bulgaria. It begs for it. It’s beautiful, and there’s not much traffic. It feels very safe,” said Reid, who rode around the country last year in a Soviet-era 1972 Moskovich, which he bought for $500.

Reid recommended visiting Veliko Târnovo, an ancient capital, and the picturesque city of Plovdiv, home to Roman ruins.

Woodland Strawberry Genome Sequenced

An international research consortium has sequenced the genome of the woodland strawberry, according to a study published in the Dec. 26 advance online edition of the journal Nature Genetics. The development is expected to unlock possibilities for breeding tastier, hardier varieties of the berry and other crops in its family.

“We’ve created the strawberry parts list,” said the consortium’s leader Kevin Folta, an associate professor with the University of Florida’s Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences. “For every organism on the planet, if you’re going to try to do any advanced science or use molecular-assisted breeding, a parts list is really helpful. In the old days, we had to go out and figure out what the parts were. Now we know the components that make up the strawberry plant.”
From a genetic standpoint, the woodland strawberry, formally known as Fragaria vesca, is similar to the cultivated strawberry but fewer complexes, making it easier for scientists to study. The 14-chromosome woodland strawberry has one of the smallest genomes of economically significant plants, but still contains approximately 240 million base pairs.

The woodland strawberry is the smallest plant genome to be sequenced other than Arabidopsis thaliana, a small flowering plant in the mustard family, because it has only about 210 million base pairs, OSU plant molecular biologist Todd Mockler, one of the lead researchers, said. Base pairs are the molecules known as adenine, cytosine, guanine and thymine that form a double-stranded DNA helix.

As part of their findings, the scientists identified genes that they think might be responsible for some of the berry’s characteristics like flavor, aroma, nutritional value, flowering time and response to disease. Knowing what individual genes do will allow researchers to breed crops for those specific traits. And in the case of tree fruits, they won’t have to wait years to see if those traits actually show up in the fruit. For example, with molecular breeding they would be able to cross a high-yielding pear tree with one that resists a certain fungal disease, and they’d be certain that the desired genes are actually present.

The consortium of 75 researchers from 38 institutions that sequenced the genome included two Georgia Tech researchers. They are Mark Borodovsky, a Regents professor with a joint appointment in the Wallace H. Coulter Department of Biomedical Engineering at Georgia Tech and Emory University and the Georgia Tech School of Computational Science and Engineering, and Paul Burns, who worked on the project as a bioinformatics Ph.D. student.

Once the consortium uncovered the genomic sequence of the woodland strawberry, Borodovsky and Burns led the efforts in identifying protein-coding genes in the sequence. Using a newly developed pattern recognition program called GeneMark.hmm -ES+, Borodovsky and Burns identified 34,809 genes, of which 55 percent were assigned to gene families.

The GeneMark.hmm -ES+ program iteratively identified the correct algorithm parameters from the DNA sequence and transcriptome data. The program used a probabilistic model called the Hidden Markov Model to pinpoint the boundaries between coding sequences — called exons — and non-coding sequences, which could be either introns or intergenic regions.

In identifying the genes, prediction and training steps were repeated, each time detecting a larger set of true coding and non-coding sequences used to further improve the model employed in statistical pattern recognition. When the new sequence breakdown coincided with the previous one, the researchers recorded their final set of predicted genes.

“GeneMark.hmm -ES+ is a hybrid program that uses both DNA and RNA sequences to predict protein-coding genes,” said Borodovsky, who is also director of Georgia Tech’s Center for Bioinformatics and Computational Genomics.

“Our approach to gene prediction in the strawberry genome proved highly effective, with 90 percent of the genes predicted by the hybrid gene model supported by transcript-based evidence,” added Borodovsky.

Further analysis of the woodland strawberry genome revealed genes involved in key biological processes, such as flavor production, flowering and response to disease. Additional examination also revealed a core set of signal transduction elements shared between the strawberry and other plants.

The woodland strawberry is a member of the Rosaceae family, which consists of more than 100 genera and 3,000 species. This large family includes many economically important and popular fruit, nut, ornamental and woody crops, including the cultivated strawberry, almond, apple, peach, cherry, raspberry and rose.

In the long term, breeders will be able to use the information to create plants that can be grown with less environmental impact, better nutritional profiles and larger yields.

This project was supported by the National Institutes of Health.