A sunflower field .
(photo credit: REUTERS)
The genome of the sunflower has been cracked in an international study that included a researcher at Tel Hai Academic College.
Thanks to the mapping of the genome by biotechnology department expert Dr. Sariel Hubner and colleagues, which took over eight years, it will be possible to advance genetic research of the plant and develop species at a much faster rate.
Before the completion of their in-depth study, which appears in the prestigious journal Nature, the genome cracking that formed the basis for many studies and the improvement of new strains was been beyond the reach of researchers.
In addition to its economic importance as a snack and, to a lesser degree, as a decorative flower, the sunflower is also a model plant in evolutionary and ecological studies, which deal with the formation of new species, the response to global warming, population dynamics, and more. It is also very popular the world around as an edible oil.
The sunflower genome is composed of approximately 3.5 billion bases and is larger than the human genome, which is composed of about 3.2 billion bases. Some 85% of the genome consists of identical sections that make identification and separation difficult.
Hubner, who is also a researcher at the Miguel Research Institute at the Galilee Research Society, explained: “The work of assembling a genome is like assembling a multibillion-piece puzzle, but in the case of the sunflower, most of the parts are identical. The breakthrough that made it possible to crack the genome was the introduction of new technology allowing for the analysis of longer sequences, representing larger segments of the genome. Now we have understood the gene sequence of the sunflower, the order and the connection among them.
Today genes can be associated with traits that interest us, including oils, flavors, disease resistance and so on.”
The cracking of the sunflower’s genome is expected to lead to a breakthrough in the study of this complex plant family and, in general, accelerate the process of upgrading new sunflower varieties, which are more resistant to changing environments and have higher oil quality.
The research was a collaborative effort between seed companies and academic institutions around the world, including the INRA Research Institute in France, the University of British Columbia in Canada and the University of Georgia in the US.