The genetic makeup of pineapples has been brought to light by a team of researchers at the University of Illinois.
The findings, published in the journal Nature Genetics, are important because they provide greater understanding of how these tropical fruit manage to cope with drought.
The also help explain a particular kind of photosynthesis, through which light energy is converted into the chemical energy, which can be stored as sugar and other organic compounds.
Pineapples were initially domesticated approximately 6,000 years ago, in regions which are now occupied by eastern Paraguay and southwest Brazil.
The popularity of this fruit escalated significantly in the last century, after Hawaii emerged as a major producer in the canned pineapple industry, especially following Dole’s success as the largest pineapple packer in the world.
Nowadays, pineapples, which are grown in around 80 tropical and subtropical countries, are only surpassed by bananas in terms of importance as a tropical fruit crop.
Approximately 25 million metric tons of pineapples are produced on an annual basis, generating revenues exceeding $8 billion.
According to plant biologist Ray Ming, pineapples have experienced 2 instances of whole-genome duplication in their evolution, basically doubling their number of genes two separate times.
In contrast, certain types of grass such as sorghum or rice, which derive from common ancestors, have undergone three such genome duplications.
It has also been revealed that pineapple are the most valuable type of produce, out of 10,000 plant species which employ a type of photosynthesis called crassulacean acid metabolism (CAM).
This process is especially adapted to arid regions, in order to maximize the results produced by scarce water resources.
It is also influenced by the circadian clock, since plants with these genes are capable of differentiating between certain moments of the day.
More exactly, they keep their pores open during the night, and close them the rest of the time, so as to keep optimal levels of moisture.
The vast majority of crop plants, such as barley,wheat or rice, use C3 carbon fixation, and require moderate sun exposure and temperature values, plenty of water, and carbon dioxide concentrations of at least 200 ppm.
Their disadvantage is that they can’t survive in hot and dry areas, because of photorespiration, which limits growth following a decrease in nitrogen and carbon concentrations.
In contrast, plants which have CAM photosynthesis have evolved by changing molecular pathways associated with C3 photosynthesis.
As a result, they require between 20 and 80% less water than their counterparts, and can easily survive even under harsh conditions, where most crops would be destroyed.
Scientists believe that these particularities could be employed in order to genetically engineer crops that are more resistant when it comes to withstanding extensive periods of drought. This is a growing necessity nowadays when climate change has become an unavoidable certainty.
In fact, it is hoped that C3 carbon fixation plants could be modified, so that they can employ CAM photosynthesis instead.
This could potentially revolutionize agriculture and other businesses included in the food industry, by allowing farmers to grow crops even in previously inhospitable areas.
It could also help create varieties that are more long-lasting and abundant, as well as less vulnerable to pests and disease.
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