Scientists crack peanut’s gene code, better varieties on the way

Scientists have cracked the first genome code of cultivated peanut, which will lead to better varieties with enhanced pod and oil yield, greater disease resistance, drought and heat tolerance and oil quality, according to ICRISAT.

The Hyderabad-based research institution said the breakthrough was made by researchers of The International Peanut Genome Initiative (IPGI) led by the University of Georgia in the US.

The researchers traced the roots of the original wild genomes to a wild plant from Bolivia, which is a “living relic” of the prehistoric origins of the cultivated peanut species, ICRISAT said, adding that the peanut that is grown by farmers today is the result of hybridization between these two wild species. The hybrid was cultivated by ancient inhabitants of South America. Because its ancestors were two different species, today’s peanut is a tetraploid, meaning it carries two separate genomes which are designated A and B sub-genomes.

Comparisons of the DNA sequences of one of the wild species and the cultivated peanut showed that they are almost exactly the same; in fact, they are 99.96 percent identical. It’s an unprecedented similarity, it said.

“It’s almost as if we had travelled back in time and sampled the same plant that gave rise to cultivated peanuts from the gardens of these ancient people,” said David Bertioli, IPGI plant geneticist of the Universidade de Brasília, who is the lead author of the paper and works at the University of Georgia.

The new peanut genome sequence will be available to researchers and plant breeders across the globe to aid in the breeding of more productive peanut varieties. This research will also help peanut farmers to tackle the emerging challenges of climate change better. The genome map can also be used to harness genetic diversity by broadening the genetic base of cultivated peanut gene pool.

Globally, farmers tend about 25.7 million hectares of peanut each year, producing about 42 million metric tons. While the oil and protein rich legume is seen as a cash crop in the developed world, it remains an important subsistence crop in developing nations.


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