A new global study reveals the extent to which high-yielding rice varieties favored in the decades since the “Green Revolution” have a propensity to go feral, turning a staple food crop into a weedy scourge.
Reading the Basmati Genome Provides Clues for Growing Drought-Tolerant and Bacteria-Resistant Rice. Using an innovative genome sequencing technology, researchers assembled the complete genetic blueprint of two basmati rice varieties, including one that is drought-tolerant and resistant to bacterial disease.
With the help of new genomic sequencing and assembly tools, plant scientists can learn more about the function and evolution of highly destructive plant pathogens that refuse to be tamed by fungicides, antibacterial, and antivirals.
In the face of rapid climate change, it is important that plants can adapt quickly to new conditions to ensure their survival. Using field experiments and plant genome studies, an international research team has pinpointed areas of the genome that are affected during local adaptation to contrasting climates. This new insight into local adaptation represents an important first step towards future development of crops that are resilient to climate change.
It is an open question how we can ensure that our crop plants remain productive in a changing climate. Plants are confronted with similar climate adaptation challenges when colonising new regions, as climate conditions can change quickly across latitudes and landscapes. Despite the relevance of the question, there is very limited basic scientific insight into how plants tackle this challenge and adapt to local climate conditions. Researchers from Denmark, Japan, Austria and Germany have now published the results of their research on this very subject.
The researchers studied the plant Lotus japonicus, which – with relatively limited genomic changes – has been able to adapt to diverse Japanese climates ranging from subtropical to temperate. Using a combination of field experiments and genome sequencing, the researchers were able to infer the colonisation history of L. japonicus in Japan and identify areas in the genome where plant populations adapted to warm and cold climates, respectively, showed extreme genetic differentiation. At the same time, they showed that some of these genomic regions were strongly associated with plant winter survival and flowering.
This is the first time researchers have identified specific genomic regions that have changed in response to natural selection to allow the plant species to adapt to new climatic conditions.
Professor Mikkel Heide Schierup states: “One of the great questions of evolutionary biology is how natural selection can lead to genetic adaptation to new environments, and here we directly observed an example of this in Lotus japonicus.”
And Associate Professor Stig Uggerhøj Andersen adds: “Yes, and it is fascinating that we have identified specific traits, including winter survival, that have been under selection during plant local adaptation to contrasting climates. At the same time, we observed extreme genetic signatures of selection in specific genomic regions. This link between selection signatures and specific traits is critical for understanding the process of local adaptation.”
“The rapid adaptation of L. japonicus to widely different climates indicates that genetic variation underlying the adaptations was already present before plant colonisation. This is promising for other plant species on a planet with rapid climate change, since it will allow more rapid adaptation,” adds Professor Schierup.
“In this case, the different climates have resulted in distinct plant populations adapted to their own local environments. These populations appear to be preserved because certain genotypes are an advantage in warm climates, but a disadvantage in cold climates and vice versa,” concludes Dr. Andersen.
Read the paper: Nature Communications
Article source: Aarhus University
Author: LISBETH HEILESEN
Image credit: Niels Sandal, Aarhus University
Almond and the peach are two well-known tree species, since humans have been eating their fruit (peach) or seed (almond) for thousands of years. New research shows that the movement of the transposons could lie at the origin of the differences between the fruit of both species or the flavour of the almond.
Peng Jiang and Hui Guo at the University of Georgia think you can! They are currently raising money via a crowdfunding approach to sequence the first cactus genome – but the question is: why would they want to? Peng explains all in this guest blog post.
A Prickly Proposal: Why Sequence the Cactus?
In these times of growing food insecurity due to climate change and population pressures, the prickly pear cactus (Opuntia ficus) has growing commercial and agricultural importance across much of the world – you will find it growing in Mexico and Brazil, Chile, large parts of India and South Africa, and in Spain and Morocco.
The goal of our proposal is to sequence the genome and transcriptome of the prickly pear cactus, a recognized food and forage crop in these challenging semiarid regions of the world.
With more than 130 genera and 1,500 species of Cactaceae, we will create a draft genomic and transcriptome database that would aid the understanding of this understudied plant family, and provide the research community with valuable resources for molecular breeding and genetic manipulation purposes. Here are some of the reasons why we think a first cactus genome would be so important:
1. Ecological Improvement
The beauty of the drought-tolerance cactus is that it can grow on desert-like wastelands. Nowadays, more than 35% of the earth’s surface is arid or semiarid, making it inadequate for most agricultural uses. Without efforts to curb global warming, “Thermageddon” may hit in 30–40 years time, causing desertification of the US, such that it may become like the Sahara. Opuntia helps create a vegetative cover, which improves soil regeneration and rainfall infiltration into the soil. This cactus genome research may help us to adapt our food crops to a much hotter, drier climate.
2. Food Crops, Feed and Medicine
The fruits of prickly pear cactus are edible and sold in stores under the name “tuna”. Prickly pear nectar is made with the juice and pulp of the fruits. The pads of prickly pears (“Nopalito”) are also eaten as a vegetable. Both the fruits and pads of prickly pears can help keep blood sugar levels stable because they contain rich, soluble fibers. The fruit contains vitamin C and was used as an early cure for scurvy.
Furthermore, there has been much medical interest in the prickly pear plant. Studies [1, 2, 3] have shown that the pectin contained in prickly pear pulp lowers cholesterol levels. Another study  found that the fibrous pectin in the fruit may lower a diabetic’s need for insulin. The plant also contains the antioxidant flavonoids quercetin, (+)-dihydroquercetin (taxifolin), quercetin 3-methyl ether (isorhamnetin) and kaempferol, which have a protective function against the DNA damage that leads to cancer.
3. Biofuels in Semiarid Regions
Planting low water use, Crassulacean acid metabolism (CAM; a water saving mode of photosynthesis) biofuel feedstocks on arid and semiarid lands could offer immediate and sustained biogas advantages. Opuntiapads have 8–12% dry matter, which is ideal for anaerobic digestion. With an arid climate, this prevents the need for extra irrigation or water to facilitate the anaerobic digestion process. Requiring only 300 mm of precipitation per year, Opuntiacan produce a large amount of dry matter feedstock and still retain enough moisture to facilitate biogas production. It’s possible to get as much as 2.5 kWh of methane from 1 kg of dry Opuntia.
4. Phylogenetic Importance
Trained botanists and amateurs alike have held cacti in high regard for centuries. The copious production of spines, lack of leaves, bizarre architecture and impressive ability to persist in the harshest environments on Earth are all traits that have entitled this lineage to be named a true wonder of the plant world.
The cacti are one of the most celebrated radiations of succulent plants. There has been much speculation about their age, but progress in dating cactus origins has been hindered by the lack of fossil data for cacti or their close relatives. Through whole genome sequencing, we help will reveal the genomic evolution of Opuntia by comparing this genome with that of other sequenced plant species.
Cacti are typical CAM plants. We will analyse the evolution of CAM genes in the cactus to help reveal the secret of drought tolerance. Furthermore, plant architecture genes and MADS-box gene family members will be analysed to reveal the specific architecture and structure of cactus.
Crowdfunding the Cactus Genome Project
Cactus has several fascinating aspects that are worth exploring, not just for its biology, but also its relevance to humanity and the global environment. We plan to generate a draft genome for Opuntia, and have launched a crowdfunding campaign to help fund this project – we have already raised $2300 USD (46% of what we need), but we only have 15 days to raise the rest. If you would like to help fund this project, please visit our Experiment page at: https://experiment.com/projects/sequencing-the-cactus-genome-to-discover-the-secret-of-drought-resistance.
If we are successful in raising enough money to initiate the Cactus Genome Project, not only will this be the first plant genome to be sequenced in the Cactaceae family, we will be releasing the results to the plant science community through GeneGarden, an ornamental plant genome database. Our citizen science approach is also allowing us to reach out directly to members of the public, creating exciting opportunities for outreach and engagement with plant science.
If you have any further questions, please contact project leader Dr Peng Jiang at firstname.lastname@example.org.
This blog post is slightly adapted from a post originally appearing on GigaScience Journal’s GigaBlog. Reproduced and adapted with permission, under a CC-BY license.
- Wolfram RM, Kritz H, Efthimiou Y, et al. Effect of prickly pear (Opuntia robusta) on glucose- and lipid-metabolism in non-diabetics with hyperlipidemia – a pilot study. Wien Klin Wochenscr. 2002;114(19–20):840–6.
- Trejo-Gonzalez A, Gabriel-Ortiz G, Puebla-Perez AM, et al. A purified extract from prickly pear cactus (Opuntia fulignosa) controls experimentally induced diabetes in rats. J Ethnopharmacol. 1996;55(1):27–33.
- Fernandez ML, Lin EC, Trejo A, et al. Prickly pear (Opuntia sp.) pectin alters hepatic cholesterol metabolism without affecting cholesterol absorption in guinea pigs fed a hypercholesterolemic diet. J Nutr. 1994;124(6):817–24.
- Frati-Munari AC, Gordillo BE, Altamirano P, et al. Hypoglycemic effect of Opuntia streptacantha Lemaire in NIDDM. Diabetes Care. 1988:11(1):63–66.