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Dare I Sequence A Peach?

If scientists identify a peach gene that influences sugar content, it may be possible to find the same gene and function in other fruits.

Note: This is a guest piece written by David Caldwell, a science writer with NC State University’s College of Agriculture & Life Sciences. I only posted it. And added the awful pun of a headline.

The genetic makeup of the peach could yield tantalizing clues for scientists working with many related plants.

While you might expect to find apples and plums on a branch of the peach’s family tree, genome mapping coordinated at NC State University found that it’s also related to roses, strawberries and raspberries – even poplar and chestnut trees.

While these species are quite different today, the plants share common ancestors. If scientists identify a peach gene that influences sugar content in the fruit, it may be possible to find the same gene and function in strawberries and raspberries, says Dr. Bryon Sosinski, an associate professor of horticultural science at NC State.

Sosinski was the American coordinator for the International Peach Genome Initiative, which involved scientists in Italy, Spain and Chile. U.S. partners included Clemson, Washington State University and the Department of Energy Joint Genome Institute.

The peach tree whose genome was sequenced is on the Clemson University campus, Sosinski says, and arrangements have been made to send 10 cuttings of the tree to NC State, where he hopes to plant the trees around campus.

To sequence a genome, scientists determine the order of the molecules that make up DNA on chromosomes. These molecules, called nucleotides, are identified by letters.

A genome sequence resembles a book without spaces between words or punctuation, paragraphs or chapters. Scientists will work with the peach genome sequence to create the scientific equivalent of a readable book by identifying areas of the genome and their functions.

Sosinski says the peach genome appears to be particularly accurate because of the genetic structure of the Lovell variety. That will make the information more helpful to plant breeders.

Another accuracy factor: the DNA content of the peach genome is relatively small at about 230 millions of bases, compared to over 2 billion bases for corn.