BEACON TRANSCRIPT – Pineapple’s genetic secrets are discovered with the help of scientists at the University of Illinois as well as other research groups involved in an effort to sequence its genome and establish what helps it thrive in areas with little water.
A study published in the Nature Genetics journal has managed to identify numerous genome doublings in early pineapple and grass species that share common ancestry. By tracing this process known as whole-genome duplication, scientists were able to gain insight into the plant’s history and understand its adaptability to environments with limited water supplies.
The research conducted at the University of Illinois uncovered that the pineapple genome has one whole-genome duplication less than the other grasses with which it shares a distant ancestry. Because of this, pineapple has been found to be the best comparison group for the larger study of cereal crop genomes, as co-author of the study and plant biology professor Ray Ming explains.
The main reason why pineapple is of such interest for the scientific community is the method of photosynthesis which it uses. There are three types of photosynthesis and the one which the pineapple uses is called crassulacean acid metabolism or CAM and is different from the forms seen in most plants. This type of photosynthesis has evolved mostly in plants that do not use a lot of water in order to survive.
Another critical aspect that makes up the pineapple’s unique genome is the existence of its circadian clock genes, which are responsible for governing the plant’s photosynthesis genes and give a plant the ability to distinguish between day and night and adjust its metabolism in accordance to that information.
Thanks to the existence of the circadian clock genes, the plant’s stomata can remain closed during the day in order to avoid losing moisture and can be opened at night to collect carbon dioxide. The disadvantage is that these plants cannot survive in dry, hot areas because of photorespiration, as their growth is limited by the decreased carbon and nitrogen levels.
Researchers also found that in the plant’s evolution it adapted to using a type of C3 photosynthesis, as is seen in most crop plants. But thanks to the existence of CAM in its structure, pineapple uses less water than typical crop plants and can be grown in arid lands in which most crops could not survive.
At a time when climate change is increasingly affecting the health and development of crops around the world, the understanding of the pineapple’s genome could lead to producing drought-resistant versions of essential crops. This would lead to a secure food supply particularly for people living in harsh environments as well as provide durable crops that can endure more difficult conditions imposed by climate change in the years to come.
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