By DAN WHEAT
PULLMAN, Wash. -- Washington State University scientists have sequenced four new Rosaceae crop family genomes and are releasing that information to help breeders aim for better fruit.
The four are the Comice pear, a French strain of Golden Delicious apple, the Stella self-pollinating sweet cherry and two varieties of almonds, one bitter and one sweet.
Finding the genetic code of these varieties lays the foundation for finding codes of other varieties that can help breeders work toward varieties of better characteristics, said Amit Dhingra, a horticultural genomicist at WSU, who led researchers.
For example, pears can be bred that ripen more consistently, bitter pit could be bred out of apples, pitting could be eliminated in cherries and sweeter almonds could be produced, Dhingra said.
"This makes the whole exercise of putting together the genomic puzzle easier," he said.
WSU is releasing genome data for the Comice, Golden Delicious, Stella and the two almonds, he said. It is intended to help breeders by knowing which genes control certain traits but it is possible it could be used for genetic engineering in which scientists silence or insert genes for an intended trait, he said.
The work in almonds built on genome information developed by Raquel Sanchez a researcher at the University of Copenhagen and at the Spanish government's agricultural research center in Murcia, Spain.
A plant's appearance, health, productivity, color and taste are all a function of genomes. With a better understanding of Rosaceae -- the rose family of plants that includes tree fruit -- researchers will be able to address challenges of pests, drought, a plant's stress response and lack of nutrients, Dhingra said.
The new information sheds light on biochemical regulation pathways for disease resistance, ways of protecting food supply from environmental conditions and understanding ripening.
"These crops have economic value so understanding their genetics dovetails with everything else WSU is doing to ensure competitiveness of the industry," Dhingra said.
Draft assemblies of the four genomes are being made available to the research community prior to publication via the WSU Genome Portal http://bit.ly/13xXH7c. For more about the research: http://genomics.wsu.edu/