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Canola Genome Sequence Reveals Evolutionary 'Love Triangle'

Aug 25, 2014 07:25 PM EDT
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Scientists recently discovered the genome sequence for canola, the second largest crop produced in the United States, paving the way for improved versions of the plant, according to new research.
(Photo : Hayati Kayhan / Fotolia)

Scientists recently discovered the genome sequence for canola, the second largest crop produced in the United States, paving the way for improved versions of the plant, according to new research.

Brassica napus, commonly known as canola, is a winter crop grown across much of Canada and its native Europe, as well as in the state of Georgia.

You probably recognize it more easily as canola oil, which is used in cooking and prized for its naturally low levels of saturated fat and rich supply of omega-3 fatty acids. The plant is also used to produce feed for farm animals and as an efficient source for biodiesel.

"This genome sequence opens new doors to accelerating the improvement of canola," Andrew Paterson, co-corresponding author for the study, said in a statement. "We can use this knowledge to tailor the plant's flowering time, make it more resistant to disease and improve a myriad of other traits that will make it more profitable for production in Georgia and across the country."

Canola has one of the most complex genomes among flowering plants, forming thousands of years ago during the Neolithic Era when two plant species - Brassica rapa and Brassica oleracea - combined in the wild.

"Understanding the genomes of B. rapa and B. oleracea was key to piecing together the canola genome," Paterson explained. "It's like a genetic love triangle between the three species, with canola sometimes favoring genes from B. rapa or B. oleracea or sometimes both."

This discovery will allow for improved versions of the plant, which is important considering we are in a world looking for more environmentally friendly fuel alternatives. Ultimately, this genome sequence may help researchers develop feedstocks that are suited to more sustainable biofuel production.

The study's findings were published Aug. 22 in the journal Science.

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