Research Report 2019_20

Jane Grimwood, PhD & Jeremy Schmutz / HudsonAlpha Genome Sequencing Center

Genome sequencing to improve crop domestication

The domestication of plants thousands of years ago fun- damentally changed the course of human history, in- creasing the food supply and stimulating the rise of cities and modern civilization. Out of thousands of wild species, only a few became domesticated crops with fifteen crops providing most of the food consumed by humans today. Despite the importance of these crops, little is known about their domestication story. Obtaining a better un- derstanding of crop domestication can help agricultural researchers improve existing domesticated crops and in- crease diversity by domesticating new species.

The demand for crop production is rising due to the increasing human population worldwide, greater food consumption, and the rise of biofuel use. To keep up with demand, growers are always looking for new varieties of a crop that can better withstand drought, pests, and pathogens, while still producing a high-quality product. Identifying genomic differences between wild and do- mesticated crops can be used to reintroduce agricultur- ally beneficial traits like disease or drought resistance into domesticated crops. Reference genomes, like those produced by Grimwood and Schmutz’s group, are an im- portant tool for pinpointing these genomic differences. For example, in a paper published in Nature Genetics in May 2020, Grimwood and Schmutz compared the genomes of wild and domesticated cotton species to try to understand more about cotton fiber develop- ment 1 . Cotton is an important fiber crop that has been grown for thousands of years and globally provides income for more than 100 million families across more than 150 countries. However, cotton supply is increasing- ly threatened due to drought-like conditions, high-salin- ity soils, and pest emergence. Producing new varieties of cotton to withstand these conditions but also have im- proved crop production fiber quality, and sustainability is a major goal in the agricultural community.

Jane Grimwood, PhD and Jeremy Schmutz

HudsonAlpha Faculty Investigators Jane Grimwood, PhD, and Jeremy Schmutz, use the power of genomics to unravel the story behind domesticated crops at the HudsonAlpha Genome Sequencing Center . Their group, along with numerous colleagues, has generated ref- erence genomes for more than 175 plants — approx- imately half of plants sequenced as high-quality refer- ences worldwide. Reference genomes serve as a point of comparison for future study and lay the foundation for downstream functional studies for the improvement and production of domesticated crops. Having a reference genome can help researchers find beneficial traits that were lost in domesticated crops, trace the evolutionary history of crops, identify genes related to desirable traits, and study environmental effects on domestication.

Cotton field


HudsonAlpha Institute for Biotechnology

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