Crop plants: Genome of a thirsty artist decoded

Researchers are sequencing genetic material of the important food crop Sorghum

Sorghum bicolor © USDA
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An international consortium of scientists has decrypted the entire heritage of Sorghum sorghum bicolor. The plant is used in Asia and North and Central America as food, animal feed and fuel.

The genetic data analysis will play a key role in the breeding adaptation and improvement of this important crop to the changing climate, the researchers write in the scientific journal "Nature".

Bread cereals and much more

The climate is changing. In order to ensure nutrition, people need plants that thrive under barren conditions, especially in today's arid regions. Sorghum, for example: The grass, which grows up to five meters high in the German Mohrenhirse, Durra or Besenkorn, is extremely resistant to drought and heat.

The sorghum millet is a native of Africa crop. It plays an important role in agriculture today in India, China and parts of North and Central America. Sorghum is used to produce food, animal feed, fibers and fuel. In Africa, sorghum is the most important bread grain ever. It is used to make flour for flat bread, but is also used for beer production.

Sorghum belongs botanically to the grasses, is closely related to corn, sugarcane and the miscanthus known as a renewable resource. It is one of the C4 plants that can use sunlight extremely energy efficient. The sorghum millet therefore plays an important role in plant biology research. display

20, 000 grain-specific genes

An international consortium of scientists, including the research group led by Professor Beat Keller from the Institute of Plant Biology at the University of Zurich (UZH), has now deciphered the entire sorghum sorghum Sorghum bicolor genome. In total, the genetic material comprises 730 million base pairs.

It is thus almost twice as large as the genome of rice, but has only a quarter of the size of the maize genome. The comparison with the rice genome made it possible to identify a set of 20, 000 grain-specific genes. These obviously form the basis for the specific development and function of grasses.

According to the researchers in Nature, the analysis of the sorghum genome allows a detailed study of the evolutionary processes in this species during the last 70 million years, but also in the short time span of several thousand years since humans used this plant as a crop. In addition, the varied data from genetic analysis will play an important role in the future breeding improvement and adaptation of sorghum to changing climatic conditions.

New insights into the differences between C3 and C4 plants

"We want to discover the functional and structural genomics of sorghum, " explains Klaus Mayer from the Institute for Bioinformatics and Systems Biology at Helmholtz Zentrum München, which is also involved in the new study was. "That is the prerequisite for making this important cereal even more efficient with targeted breeding."

Sorghum is the first cereal plant with C4 photosynthesis whose genome is completely sequenced. The analysis of its functional genomics opens new insights into the molecular differences between C3 and C4 plants.

(University of Zurich / Helmholtz Zentrum Mnchen - German Research Center for Health and Environment, 02.02.2009 - DLO)