The summer of 2012 is set to go down as one of the driest and worst years for US farmers, but it's proving to be an excellent season for fruit science, especially at the University of Arizona, Tucson. In June we saw the sequencing of the tomato genome (technically a fruit), which was a breakthrough in genetics research. The Arizona Genomics Institute has now cracked another complex code: the genome of the banana.
Bananas are the most-consumed fruit in the world. The average person in the United States eats twenty-eight pounds of bananas every year. That averages to 112 bananas a year, per person. To meet this demand, the international banana trade is valued at $5 billion annually.
In order to maintain the banana market, it is crucial that the bananas not fall victim to the various diseases and pests that abound in their tropical natural habitat or may be encountered on the long voyage from Central and South America. One way to protect them is with the use of sprays and chemicals. An alternate approach is to modify their genes so that they are more resistant to such attacks.
At the Arizona Genomics Institute, the entire genome of the banana has now been sequenced, and results of that work have been published recently in the journal Nature. The revelation of the secrets of the starchy fruit's 520 million base pairs will assist greatly in the development of improved varieties of bananas, such as those that are more robust and less susceptible to insects, rot and spoilage. Beyond such longterm practical applications, access to the entire genome allows geneticists to track the evolutionary progress of the banana, as well as compare the genome to other members of the plant kingdom.
Eric Lyons, an assistant professor at the University of Arizona School of Plant Sciences, has developed a computer system to make such comparisons easier. CoGe (short for Comparative Genetics) is a database that holds nearly 20,000 genomes from over 15,000 organisms. CoGe also provides genomics researchers with the tools necessary to compare and analyze genomes. According to Lyon, as quoted in a UA article:
“The number of genomes has exploded. The whole reason I designed the system was that we needed ways to compare genomes quickly. However, we also needed to easily manage those data, because no matter where we are today, tomorrow we'll have a new version of our favorite genome and 10 more to which to compare it.”
Lyon's research is part of the work of the iPlant Collaborative within the Bio5 Institute at UA; iPlant is supported by a $50M grant from the NSF's Plant Cyberinfrastructure Program.
The completed banana genome is wonderful news for both evolutionary geneticists and people who love banana splits.
On November 8th, 2012, the University of Arizona will be home to Biotechnology Calendar, Inc's 10th Annual Tucson BioResearch Product Faire™ event. This professional tradeshow is a great opportunity for both academic researchers and lab suppliers looking to network in the life science marketplace. Biotechnology Calendar, Inc. is a full-service science research marketing and events-planning company that runs trade shows at many of the top research universities across the nation. To find a show in your territory, please see our 2012 schedule. (2013 will be available very soon!)
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