Peanuts address nutritional demands in underdeveloped countries as they are a rich source of proteins and fatty acids. In a significant development, an international team of researchers led by plant geneticists at the Hyderabad-based International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics (ICRISAT) has decoded the complete set of chromosomes of two widely cultivated peanut varieties belonging to the subspecies hypogaea and fastigiata.
Genetic decoding — known as the reference genome sequence— helps in understanding cell-level mechanisms which make one variety score better than the other. For peanuts, the deciding factors are high oil and protein content, disease and heat resistance and high yield.
Peanuts, with their farming history of more than 6000 years have complex genomes. In this study, the scientists found that its sequence was comparable in size to that of the human genome which had a little over 3 billion DNA base pairs with 83709 genes that control its traits. During this process, the team discovered that the peanut variety was a tetraploid — which means that the cultivated groundnut genome is home to two different sub-species genomes. They also found that the exchange of genomes was occurring with one dominating the other.
Genome referencing provides researchers access to all the peanut genes, which, in turn, will boost gene discovery and marker development studies. “It will accelerate development of superior peanut varieties with high pod and oil yield, greater resistance to diseases, nutrition-rich, aflatoxin-free, and improved oil quality seeds,” added Dr Manish Pandey, senior scientist at ICRISAT. This study will help expand genetic base for sustainable and resilient groundnut production to face the challenges brought about by of climate changes.