The first peanut genomes sequenced

Peanut (or groundnut) is usually grown by women farmers in the semi-arid tropics of Asia and sub-Saharan Africa as a primary calorie source for families and a cash crop. Photo: ICRISAT

The International Peanut Genome Initiative releases the first peanut genome sequences to the public.

The International Peanut Genome Initiative, a multi-national group of crop geneticists working in cooperation for several years, has successfully sequenced the genome of the peanut, also called groundnut. The new peanut genome sequence will be available to researchers and plant breeders across the globe to aid in the breeding of more productive and more resilient peanut varieties.

“The peanut crop is important in the United States, but it is very important for developing nations as well,” said Dr Scott Jackson, Director of the University of Georgia (UGA), Institute of Plant Breeding, Genetics and Genomics at the College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences, and chair of the International Peanut Genome Initiative. “In many areas, it is a primary calorie source for families and a cash crop for farmers.”

“Rich in protein and edible oil, peanut is central to the financial and nutritional well-being of hundreds of millions of farmers and consumers across the semi-arid tropics of Asia and sub-Saharan Africa,” said Dr William Dar, Director General, ICRISAT.

“Improving peanut varieties to be more drought, insect and disease resistant using the genome sequence can help farmers in developed nations produce more peanuts with fewer pesticides and other chemicals and help farmers in developing nations feed their families and build more-secure livelihoods,” said Dr Rajeev Varshney, Research Program Director – Grain Legumes and Director, Center of Excellence in Genomics, ICRISAT.

ICRISAT is a member of the Peanut Genome Consortium, the coalition of international scientists and stakeholders engaged in the International Peanut Genome Initiative.

The effort to sequence the genome of the peanut has been underway for several years. According to plant geneticist, Dr Peggy Ozias-Akins, UGA-Tifton, while peanuts have been successfully bred for intensive cultivation, relatively little was known about the legume’s genetic structure because of its complexity. 

Plant geneticists Drs David and Soraya Bertioli of Brazil expressed their enthusiasm for the new possibilities offered by the genome sequence: “Until now, we’ve bred peanuts relatively blindly compared to other crops. These new advances are allowing us to understand breeding in ways that could only be dreamt of before.”

To map the peanut’s genome structure, researchers sequenced the two ancestral parents – Arachis duranensis and A. ipaensis – because together they represent the cultivated peanut. The sequences provide researchers access to 96% of all peanut genes in their genomic context, providing the molecular map needed to more quickly breed drought-resistant, disease-resistant, lower-input and higher-yielding varieties.

Knowing the genome sequences of the two parent species will allow researchers to recognize the cultivated peanut’s genomic structure by differentiating between the two subgenomes present in this crop. Being able to see the two separate structural elements will also aid future gene marker development — the determination of links between a gene’s presence and a physical characteristic of the plant. Understanding the structure of the peanut’s genome will lay the groundwork for new varieties with traits like added disease resistance and drought tolerance. The genome sequence assemblies and additional information are available at http://peanutbase.org/files/genomes/.

The International Peanut Genome Initiative brings together scientists from the United States, China, Brazil, India and Israel to delineate peanut genome sequences, characterize the genetic and phenotypic variation in cultivated and wild peanuts and develop genomic tools for peanut breeding. The initial sequencing was carried out by the BGI, Shenzen, China.  The project was funded by the peanut industry through the Peanut Foundation, by MARS Inc., and three Chinese Academies (Henan Academy of Agricultural Sciences, Chinese Academy of Agricultural Sciences, and Shandong Academy of Sciences). A complete list of the institutions involved with the project and the other funding sources is available at www.peanutbioscience.com

ICRISAT led a global research partnership in decoding the genome sequence of pigeonpea in 2011, and of chickpea in 2013; it is currently leading the genome sequencing of pearl millet. ICRISAT’s participation in the peanut genome sequencing project was undertaken as part of the CGIAR Research Program on Grain Legumes.

Source: ICRISAT Happenings