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Legume Genome Gets Leg Up With Additional $5M Sequencing Commitment

NEW YORK, OCT. 26—A major private research foundation has announced a $5 million, 1-year commitment help sequence the first legume genome, bringing to $15 million the total funds raised so far. 

Oklahoma’s Samuel Roberts Noble Foundation, which conducts and funds agbio research ,  will fund the research into the plant, Medicago truncatula,  according to the group. The project, which will cost $45 million over five years, will be conducted at the Advanced Center for Genome Technology at the University of Oklahoma.

M. truncatula  was chosen for its similarity to important food crops like  soybean, alfalfa, peanut, chickpea, and lentil, and because it is a common model organism for plant biology research. 

The species is easier to work with than many closely related food crops because it can be pollinated in the lab and has only eight chromosome pairs, explained project leader Bruce Roe, director of the Advanced Center for Genome Technology at the university. 

“When you go to the wild type alfalfa and other parts of Medicago, it’s like cancer—you have 20 chromosomes, 60 chromosomes, they multiply themselves all over creation,” he said. “Obviously nobody understands that process.” 

Researchers believe that decoding the legume’s genetic information will lead the way to improving other bean and pea crops. Possible applications include developing disease-resistant and higher-yielding strains.

Data from the project will be made available immediately on the Internet. 

The National Center for Genome Resources, located in Santa Fe, NM, will provide bioinformatics resources and gene expression profiling data sets, Samuel Roberts Noble Foundation said. 

While most major crops have yet to be decoded, the rice genome was completed last January by Syngenta and Myriad Genetics. An international consortium announced plans in July to finish the banana genome within five years.  

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