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A Vanilla Genome

Researchers have sequenced the genome of the vanilla plant with the hope of leading to easier production of the finicky crop, the Miami Herald reports.

It notes that the process of making vanilla is painstaking, as the plant's flowers bloom only briefly and fertilization must be done by hand to spur the production of beans. But, researchers from the University of Florida and Elo Life Systems have now sequenced the genome of orchid species Vanilla planifolia

As they report in Nature Food, the researchers identified a number of genes that could influence vanilla production and bean quality. In particular, Florida's Alan Chambers and his colleagues noted a phenylalanine ammonia-lyase (PAL) allele that could potentially be harnessed to produce beans with higher vanillin content as well as gene variants that influence pod shattering.

"The quality of vanilla beans is primarily defined by the vanillin content. So if you can produce plants with higher vanillin concentrations, your beans will be worth more," Chambers tells the Herald.

The Scan

Should've Been Spotted Sooner

Scientists tell the Guardian that SARS-CoV-2 testing issues at a UK lab should have been noticed earlier.

For Martian Fuel

Researchers have outlined a plan to produce rocket fuel on Mars that uses a combination of sunlight, carbon dioxide, frozen water, cyanobacteria, and engineered E. coli, according to Gizmodo.

To Boost Rapid Testing

The Washington Post writes that new US programs aim to boost the availability of rapid at-home SARS-CoV-2 tests.

PNAS Papers on Strawberry Evolution, Cell Cycle Regulators, False-Positive Triplex Gene Editing

In PNAS this week: strawberry pan-genome, cell cycle-related roles for MDM2 and MDMX, and more.