king abdullah university of science and technology

Delicious potential: The genome of quinoa decoded

Scientists have successfully decoded the genome of quinoa, one of the world’s most nutritious and resilient crops.

The study, published online this week in Nature, was an international collaboration led by Professor Mark Tester at the King Abdullah University of Science and Technology (KAUST), Saudi Arabia.

The enormously popular “super-food” is gluten-free, has a low glycaemic index and contains an excellent balance of essential amino acids, fibre, lipids, carbohydrates, vitamins, and minerals, causing international demand for the grain to soar and prices to skyrocket as demand exceeds supply.

“Apart from its nutritional benefits, the ability of quinoa to grow on marginal land is possibly most exciting”, said Prof Mark Tester. “It can grow in poor soils, salty soils and at high altitudes. It really is a very tough plant. Quinoa could provide a healthy, nutritious food source for the world using land and water that currently cannot be used, and our new genome takes us one step closer to that goal.”

quinoa-kaust-trials

Quinoa pilot trials in the Australian Plant Phenomics Facility’s high-throughput phenotyping Smarthouse at The Plant Accelerator®

Future research projects will focus on identifying the genes that make quinoa so tolerant to poor soils. In pilot experiments carried out at the Australian Plant Phenomics Facility‘s Adelaide node, The Plant Accelerator®, different growth conditions and salt applications were tested in preparation for larger-scale studies. The first studies showed that quinoa still grows well when watered with half-strength sea water, when many other crops would die. Since performing these initial experiments, Professor Tester and his team have secured further research funding to work towards establishing quinoa as a broadacre crop.

“We are extremely excited to support this important research”, said Dr Bettina Berger, Scientific Director at The Plant Accelerator®. “As part of this collaborative project, The Plant Accelerator® will perform two screening runs of a diversity panel in the second half of 2017 to identify the genetic basis of salt tolerance in quinoa”.

Further reading:

The full published study in Nature. doi:10.1038/nature21370

KAUST An Integrated Repository for Population Genomics in genus Chenopodium

BBC News online article

Nature Middle East online article

 

Salt tolerant genetic loci in rice exposed

Rice is a staple food for over half of the world’s population. It is also the most salt-sensitive cereal crop, with losses in yield reaching up to 69%.

In a new study published in Nature Communications collaborators from King Abdullah University of Science and Technology (KAUST) and The Plant Accelerator®, Australian Plant Phenomics Facility investigated the early responses of rice plants to moderately-saline conditions and pinpointed new salt-tolerant genetic loci.

Project lead, Professor Mark Tester (KAUST), supervised PhD student Nadia Al-Tamini’s project which grew 297 indica and 256 aus rice varieties under low and high salinity. Using a technique called ‘high-throughput non-invasive phenotyping’ plants are moved on conveyor belts, imaged daily using digital cameras to monitor biomass and shoot development, and weighed to carefully measure transpiration levels (water use).

nadia-sh-rice

Dr Bettina Berger (left) and Nadia Al-Tamimi (right) in The Plant Accelerator®

“The Plant Accelerator® allowed us to analyse numerous aspects of the growth of multiple plants simultaneously,” says Professor Tester.

Using the facility’s cutting-edge technology, the researchers were able to show some genes, for example those connected with signaling processes, were important to plant growth in the first two to six days after salt application, while other genes became prominent later.

“This is perhaps the most astonishing aspect of this work – we can now obtain genetic details daily, pinpointing exactly when each locus comes into play in response to salinity,” says Professor Tester.

The results of this study could prove useful for breeding programs seeking to address yield and stress resistance to meet the demand of our increasing global population and climate challenges.

Congratulations to everyone involved in this study!!

Find the full articlewww.nature.com/articles/ncomms13342

More on Nadia Al-Tamini’s story:  https://blog.plantphenomics.org.au/2015/02/24/saudi-arabian-students-joins-plant-accelerator-team-to-investigate-salinity-tolerance-in-rice/

Professor Mark Tester, Plant Science Associate Director of the Center for Desert Agriculture Biological and Environmental Science and Engineering Division, King Abdullah University of Science and Technology, Saudi Arabia, mark.tester@kaust.edu.sa, www.kaust.edu.sa/en/study/faculty/mark-tester

Dr Bettina Berger, Scientific Director, The Plant Accelerator, Australian Plant Phenomics Facility, University of Adelaide, www.plantphenomics.org.au, bettina.berger@adelaide.edu.au