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Quinoa Genome Revealed in Search for 'Super Food'

Image: Quinoa Genome Revealed in Search for 'Super Food'

In this Sept. 13, 2016 photo, farmer Sam McCullough uses his combine to harvest quinoa near Sequim, Washington. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren)

By    |   Thursday, 09 Feb 2017 08:35 AM

The quinoa genome was successfully revealed by scientists in search for more productive varieties of the popular so-called "super food."

Quinoa, originally from South America, has become increasingly popular because it is well balanced and gluten free, but its price has jumped significantly as its demand continues to grow, according to BBC News.

Quinoa grows at high altitudes and in cool temperatures, factors which have limited its production outside of Peru, Bolivia and Ecuador, although many countries grow smaller amounts, according to BBC News.

"There are a lot of things that can be done to improve quinoa," Mark Tester, the lead author of a study published in the journal Nature, told Popular Science magazine. "Quinoa is an amazing plant. It could grow beautifully in very difficult environments, like the Middle East (or) Northern Sahara, where you have salty soil and salty irrigation water."

Quinoa, which is mostly grown by hand, is tall and fragile. Tester, a plant scientist at King Abdullah University of Science and Technology in Saudi Arabia, said that he wants to make quinoa easier to grow on larger, modern farms, Popular Science noted.

"(The goal is to) move this crop from its current status as a crop of importance in South America, and a crop of novelty in the West, to become a true commodity in the world," Tester said, according to Popular Science. "I want it out of the health food section."

The Nature study's abstract said while quinoa is believed to be an important crop "to improve world food security," there were few resources available to improve its genetic improvement.

"Here we report the assembly of a high-quality, chromosome-scale reference genome sequence for quinoa, which was produced using single-molecule real-time sequencing in combination with optical, chromosome-contact and genetic maps," the study's abstract stated.

"… The genome sequence facilitated the identification of the transcription factor likely to control the production of anti-nutritional triterpenoid saponins found in quinoa seeds, including a mutation that appears to cause alternative splicing and a premature stop codon in sweet quinoa strains. These genomic resources are an important first step towards the genetic improvement of quinoa," the abstract continued.

Tester told BBC News that by sequencing the genome, researchers have provided the foundation that will enable breeders to work much faster.

"Especially the seeds, they will be able to develop a lot more varieties for different conditions, they will help us make a designer plant," Tester told the BBC News.

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The quinoa genome was successfully revealed by scientists in search for more productive varieties of the popular so-called super food.
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2017-35-09
Thursday, 09 Feb 2017 08:35 AM
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