CATCH THE BUZZ
Apple genome Pealed Away
By Alan Harman
An international team of scientists from Italy, France, New Zealand, Belgium and the United States publish a draft sequence of the domestic apple genome.
The availability of a genome sequence for apple will allow scientists to more rapidly identify which genes provide desirable characteristics to the fruit and which genes and gene variants provide disease or drought resistance to the plant.
The information can be used to rapidly improve the plants through more informed selective breeding.
An organism's genome is the total of all its genetic information, including genes. Genes carry information that determines, among other things, a plant's appearance, health, productivity and color and taste of the fruit.
Led by Washington State University (WSU) horticultural genomicist Amit Dhingra, the Washington-based team sequenced and analysed a unique version of the genome of the golden delicious apple in which all duplicated chromosomes are genetically identical.
This information was used to validate the sequence of the more complicated “heterozygous” golden delicious apple, in which duplicated chromosomes are not identical.
“Before genome sequencing, the best we could do was correlate traits with genes,” Dhingra says. “Now we can point to a specific gene and say, ‘This is the one; this gene is responsible for this trait'.
“That trait of interest might be, for instance, a disease, which is why sequencing the human genome was such an important milestone. Or the trait might be for something desirable, like flavour in a piece of fruit.
“We are already working on finding physiological solutions to issues such as bitter pit in current apple varieties with the gene-based information available to us and lay a foundation for improved varieties in the future through generation of sports (mutations) and breeding.”
While the apple genome provides a valuable resource for future research, one pressing question answered by the international team's paper in the journal Nature Genetics was one of origin.
Scientists have long wanted to know, and have for years argued vehemently about, the ancestor of the modern domesticated apple.
The question is now settled with the researchers saying Malus sieversii, native to the mountains of southern Kazakhstan, is the apple's wild ancestor.
“Having the apple genome sequence will greatly accelerate our ability to define the differences between apple cultivars at the genetic level,” WSU Tree Fruit Research and Extension Center apple breeder Kate Evans says.
“This will allow us to exploit these differences and target areas of diversity to incorporate into the breeding program, resulting in improved cultivars for the consumers that are also better suited for long-term, sustainable production.”
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