Many agricultural crops, including watermelon, sugar cane and wheat, benefit from genome duplications, said Robert VanBuren, a graduate student in Ming's laboratory and a co-author of the study.
The genome of most other eudicots triplicated 100 million years ago, but the researchers found that the lotus experienced a separate, whole-genome duplication about 65 million years ago.
Shen-Miller said experts in aging and stress will be eager to study the lotus genes because of the plant's extraordinary longevity. "The lotus can age for 1,000 years, and even survives freezing weather," she said. "Its genetic makeup can combat stress. Most crops don't have a very long shelf life. But starches and proteins in lotus seeds remain palatable and actively promote seed germination, even after centuries of aging."
The lotus' unusual genetics give it some unique survival skills. Its leaves repel grime and water, its flowers generate heat to attract pollinators and the coating of lotus fruit is covered with antibiotics and wax that ensure the viability of the seed it contains.
Blaby-Haas studied lotus gene families potentially involved in how plants metabolize metals. One family, in particular, caught her attention. "We found that the lotus has 16 of these genes, while most plants have only one or two," Blaby-Haas said. "Either this is an extremely important protein in the lotus, which is why it needs so many copies, or the duplication allows a novel function to arise; we don't know which is correct."
These genes may be related to the unique environment of the lotus, which grows with its roots
|Contact: Stuart Wolpert|
University of California - Los Angeles