Sunflower genome to pave way for sustainable agriculture

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Washington, Jan 13 (ANI): Researchers are creating a reference genome for the sunflower family that would enable the breeding of crops better suited to their growing environment and consumers tastes.

The sunflower family is currently the world's largest plant family, containing 24,000 species of plants, including many crops, medicinal plants, horticulture plants and noxious weeds.

The 10.5 million dollar research project titled, Genomics of Sunflower, will use next-generation genotyping and sequencing technologies to sequence, assemble and annotate the sunflower genome.

The project will also locate the genes that are responsible for agriculturally important traits such as seed-oil content, flowering, seed-dormancy, and wood producing-capacity.

"The intent is to have the basis for a breeding program within four years," said project leader, Dr. Loren Rieseberg (University of British Columbia).

One of the potential applications of this research includes a hybrid variety of sunflower, grown as a dual-use crop.

The wild Silverleaf species of sunflower, known for its tall, woody stalks that grow 10 to 15 feet tall and up to 4 inches in diameter in a single season, could be crossbred with the commercially valuable sunflower plant that produces high quality seeds, capitalizing on the desirable traits of both species.

"The seeds would be harvested for food and oil, while the stalks would be utilized for wood or converted to ethanol. As a dual-use crop it wouldn't be in competition with food crops for land," said project leader, Dr. Loren Rieseberg (University of British Columbia).

In addition, this fast growing annual crop will be highly drought resistant, thanks to desirable traits from the Silverleaf variety, and would therefore be suitable for use in subsistence agriculture in places like Sub-Saharan Africa, as well as in much of North America.

"The sunflower genome is 3.5 billion letters long - slightly larger than the human genome. The sunflower family is the largest plant family on earth - encompassing several important crops and weeds.

Mapping its genome will create a very useful reference template for the entire plant family, which will enable us to work on closely related species," said Dr. Nolan Kane, one of the co-investigators on the project, who is doing much of the bioinformatics for the genome project. (ANI)

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