European pear genome sequenced in record time

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European pear genome sequenced in record time

Scientists have sequenced the European pear genome which they hope will help accelerate breeding of new varieties with innovative texture and flavor mixes.

They discovered the pear has 600 million base pairs of DNA, 25% less than apples, encoding around 51,000 genes on 17 chromosomes compared with apples' 750 million base pairs with 57,000 genes.

Project leader Dr David Chagné, said in ancient Greece pears were described by the poet Homer as a 'gift of the gods' because of their texture and aromatic taste.

"We hope that by sequencing the genome of the European pear, with its melting flesh and wonderful flavours, and comparing it with the genome sequence of apple and Asian pears, which tend to be crisper, we will be able to identify how flesh texture in these fruits is controlled.

"Ultimately this will allow us to develop tools to speed up the breeding of new varieties of pear with novel combinations of texture and flavors."

The team were surprised the number of genes controlling texture, which was expected to be higher in pears due to the way the flesh melts in the mouth, were the same as that of an apple.

However, research showed that in pears one family of these genes in particular, known as expansins, was significantly more active.

Apples and pears evolved from a common ancestor around 35-50 million years ago, about 20 million years after this ancestor diverged from other fruits in the same family, such as strawberries and peaches.

This divergence from members of the Rosaceae family was caused by a duplication of the genome corresponding to an era of major evolutionary activity.

This was thought to be a genetic survival response to an event that caused the extinction of many species, including the dinosaurs.

Dr Gardiner is presenting the research findings at the Rosaceous Genomics Conference at IASMA in Trento, Italy this week.

The pear was sequenced by researchers at New Zealand's Plant & Food Research and the Istituto Agrario di San Michele all’Adige (IASMA) in Italy in just two years.

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