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Scientists shed light on legume evolution by unravelling genome sequence

An international team of scientists has sequenced the genome of Medicago, a member of the large Fabaceae group of flowering plants and a long-established model for the study of legume biology. The scientists have successfully mapped out around 94% of its genes. Their findings...

An international team of scientists has sequenced the genome of Medicago, a member of the large Fabaceae group of flowering plants and a long-established model for the study of legume biology. The scientists have successfully mapped out around 94% of its genes. Their findings give us an insight into how Papilionoideae, the largest of the three Fabaceae subfamilies evolve. The Papilionoideae subfamily includes peas, soybean and all legumes that are grown as crops. The study, which brought together 128 scientists from, Belgium, France Germany, Nigeria, Saudi Arabia, South Korea, the United Kingdom and the United States received EUR 14 750 955 of funding from the GRAIN LEGUMES ('New strategies to improve grain legumes for food and feed') project, which was funded as part of the 'Food Quality and Safety' Thematic area of the EU's Sixth Framework Programme (FP6). One genetic trait of plants in the Papilionoideae subfamily is that they can house bacteria which can provide them with nitrogen from the air. In this new study, the team has uncovered that this useful trait can in part be attributed to a genetic event that occurred 58 million years ago when duplicate genes of the whole genome were created. 'The details of the genome shed new light on Medicago, the plant model that will help unlock the workings of nitrogen fixation we hope within our lifetime,' said one of the study authors Professor Giles Oldroyd from the John Innes Centre in the United Kingdom. Gene duplication allows new mutations and functions to develop, while maintaining the roles of original genes. This gene mutation in papilionoid legumes is what made them so successful and resilient, and enhanced their value to humans. In the Papilionoideae subfamily, these additional genes became specialised for functions related to the root nodule, an organ formed by legumes to store symbiotic nitrogen-fixing rhizobial bacteria, which do the job of providing their hosts with a form nitrogen they can use while the host plant provides the bacteria with sugars and proteins. The GRAIN LEGUMES project was launched with the aim of helping the EU meet the challenge of providing high-quality protein for both animal and human consumption. Currently, Europe imports about 70% of its plant protein; much of this could be produced on home turf. For humans, grain legumes have a high nutritional value. They are an excellent source of high-quality plant protein for animal feed. In addition, by using legumes in arable crop rotations, the need for fertiliser is reduced. Despite all these advantages, grain legumes remain underused by European farmers mainly because of yield inconsistency. The GRAIN LEGUMES project aimed to carry out research that would help bring about the eventual increased use of grain legumes in Europe.For more information, please visit:John Innes Centre:http://www.jic.ac.uk/corporate/index.htm

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Belgium, Germany, France, South Korea, Nigeria, Saudi Arabia, United Kingdom, United States

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