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In connection to past discussions on food scarcity, changing climate, and using genetic sequencing to discover and improve the foods we grow, today’s topic is on a pseudocereal that has become much more popular in recent years.
Quinoa is a common breakfast cereal component you may have heard of.
Researchers at the King Abdullah University of Science and Technology (KAUST) in Saudi Arabia have finished a full genetic sequencing of Chenopodium quinoa in high detail, specifically mapping out the genes connected to development, growth, and yield.
An Ancient History
Quinoa is, as previously noted, a pseudo-cereal, meaning that it is not in the official cereal family of grasses (Poaceae). In fact, it is actually a part of the Amaranthaceae family. This includes the expected amaranth flowers from the name, along with leaf vegetables like spinach.
Due to being a fairly newly prominent crop of interest, it has yet to go through the extreme full domestication that other crops have. It did play a large role in civilizations in the Andes mountains of South America, but full exploitation of its capacity never occurred.
To fix this, the first step is to understand its genes. This is why KAUST scientists used the highest quality sequencing methods available to give in-depth results for all of its genetic activity.
An aspect that has already been revealed lies in the normally bitter seeds of the quinoa plant. Their bitterness is due to soap-like saponin compounds found in the seeds, a common plant production that is believed to act as anti-feedant pesticides against insects, along with the unpalatability warding off animals directly.
The genes responsible for this saponin production have been located and it is believed they can be bred or modified to ultimately make the seeds taste sweeter.
Quinoa itself already has a number of positive traits that give it a leg up over other types of crops. It is highly resilient to various stresses, including poor soil quality. In addition, quinoa also has a balance of nutritional components that, with further vitamin fortification, would place it in the top ranks of the most nutritious food sources.
Time To Work Out
Analyzing and deciphering its genome is clearly just the first step of a longer and ongoing process. Genetic modification, cross-breeding, and other techniques will be required to reveal the full potential of quinoa as a crop.
But as things stand right now, quinoa is already in the lead group heading for the finish line. All that’s needed is some tweaks to its outfit.
Photo CCs: Quinua from Wikimedia Commons