Producing 'super foods': Unlocking quinoa genome opens door to new breeding techniques

Scientists believe the "supercrop" could solve the problem of feeding the world's growing population.

"... The genome sequence facilitated the identification of the transcription factor likely to control the production of anti-nutritional triterpenoid saponins found in quinoa seeds, including a mutation that appears to cause alternative splicing and a premature stop codon in sweet quinoa strains". "This means quinoa has never been fully domesticated or bred to its full potential even though it provides a more balanced source of nutrients for humans than cereals".

Professor of Plant Science Mark Tester, who led the project team, said: "Quinoa was the staple "Mother Grain" that fuelled the ancient Andean civilisations, but the crop was marginalised when the Spanish arrived in South America and has only recently been revived as a new crop of global interest". Their resulting genome is the highest-quality quinoa sequence to date, and it is already yielding insights into the plant's traits and growth mechanisms.

The scientists believe that the genetic understanding now gained will allow them to breed shorter, stockier plants that don't fall over as easily, and these benefits could be gained without the use of genetic modification.

The research saw 33 researchers from four continents use a combination of cutting-edge sequencing technologies and genetic mapping to piece together chromosomes. "This is due to the accumulation of chemical compounds called saponins in the seeds".

"We already know that the quinoa plant family is incredibly resilient", said Tester.

Hipster favourite quinoa (Chenopodium quinoa) is a highly nutritious, gluten-free, low-glycaemic-index crop that contains an excellent balance of essential amino acids, fibre, fats, carbohydrates, vitamins and minerals, and is also able to grow under a wide range of environmental conditions. It really is a very tough plant.

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