ICAR-NRCP scientists conduct genome sequencing of pomegranate

ICAR-NRCP scientists conduct genome sequencing of pomegranate

In a path-breaking development for genome research and horticultural science in India, a team of scientists has completed the genome sequencing for pomegranate. A team of ICAR-National Research Centre on Pomegranate (ICAR-NRCP) Solapur, Maharashtra has been able to identify all the bases of DNA material in sequence in the process of unlocking several genetic mysteries such as identifying particular genes responsible for sweetness, seed softness or colour of the fruit, those responsible for disease and pest resistance, and those for the enlargement of the fruit size, among others.

The ICAR-NRCP announced the release of reference quality genome assembly of Indian pomegranate cv. Bhagawa recently at the 18th foundation day of ICAR-NRCP. The team involved in this research comprised Dr. NV Singh, Dr. P. Roopa Sowjanya, Dr. Shilpa Parashuram, Dr. PG Patil and Dr. RA Marathe, from ICAR-NRCP. It has taken the team six years in accomplishing full genomic sequencing of this Indian pomegranate. The reference-quality genome assembly of pomegranate is considered as a huge reservoir of publicly accessible genomic resources for pomegranate researchers across the globe and will provide a great impetus to the pomegranate improvement programme in India. These genomic resources will assist the pomegranate genetic improvement programmes of different research organisations through genomics-assisted trait mapping, breeding and genome editing applications to develop improved varieties with resistance/tolerance to biotic and abiotic stresses.

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Highlighting the development, Dr RA Marathe, Director, ICAR- National Research Centre on Pomegranate said, “Even as India has ramped up production in recent years and has been a world leader in pomegranate production with a 50 per cent contribution to global production. India’s domestic capacity as well as export potential has still remained largely unrealised. This has been due to an assortment of reasons including the limited availability of genomic resources and molecular information about this highly remunerative crop. Being a high-value crop, until now, due to the lack of resistant pomegranate varieties against major pests and diseases, there has been a very high dependence on chemical pesticides for managing biotic stresses. However, now that we have managed to sequence the whole genome of this fruit, this will open up incredible avenues for vastly improving yield, growing much better and safer varieties for human nutritional needs, and all this at a much faster rate.”

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Speaking on the benefits of the genome sequencing of pomegranate, Dr. AK Singh, DDG (Horticultural Science), Indian Council of Agricultural Research (ICAR) said, “Given the government’s recent emphasis on steering agriculture more towards cash crops, the achieving of this full sequencing of pomegranate is very timely. For our farmer brothers, the extraordinarily jump in yield and of better quality disease-resistant fruits with a higher shelf life would go a long way in enhancing their income and thereby improving lives. Remember pomegranate supports the livelihood security of an estimated 2.5 lakh farm families mostly in climatically and edaphically-challenged regions. On the export side, it has been estimated that India exports an abysmal 2-3 per cent of its indigenous production which is far below its real potential. Now with the achievement of this sequencing and the development of even higher quality fruits, India’s export value for pomegranate in the international market will multiply several-fold in a very short period of time. And from the domestic consumers’ standpoint, they would get to sample and consume even more varieties of high-quality pomegranates further fulfilling their health and nutritional needs,”

The genome sequencing experiment was executed at Nucleome Informatics, a Hyderabad-based genomics lab. Dushyant Singh Baghel, CEO, Nucleome Informatics said, “This is an example of public-private partnership in genomics research. With the availability of skilled genomics experts and advanced genomics technologies, scientists can develop genomes and discover useful genes in crops faster.

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