Quinoa genome may help improve important crop

Quinoa genome may help improve important crop

The first high quality full DNA sequence of quinoa, the hipster’s favourite grain, has been revealed by scientists.

Quinoa is a highly nutritious, gluten-free crop that has grown in popularity in recent years as a wheat alternative. And, while the researchers didn’t find any magic superfood genes, they did identify a gene that regulates the production of saponins, a bitter-tasting molecule that is found in the quinoa seed shell. The researchers say naturally occurring sweeter strains of quinoa contain a variation in this gene and identifying this variation may help speed up breeding of sweeter commercial varieties.

The first high-quality reference genome for quinoa. The new resource will assist genetic improvement and breeding strategy efforts for quinoa, with the potential to enhance global food security.

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. However, quinoa is still an underutilised crop and breeding efforts to improve its agronomic traits are required to expand its worldwide production.

Mark Tester and colleagues sequenced the genome of a Chilean coastal variety of quinoa along with the genomes of additional Chenopodium species to characterize quinoa’s genetic diversity and understand the evolution of its genome.

The authors further analysed the genomic data to identify a gene that regulates the production of saponins, a bitter-tasting molecule that is found in the quinoa seed shell, which must be removed before human consumption.

The authors suggest that the genetic markers that they identify may be used to develop non-bitter or sweet commercial varieties of quinoa with reduced saponin levels. They conclude that the findings provide the foundation for accelerating the genetic improvement of quinoa, with the objective of enhancing global food security for a growing world population.