Carrot gene sequencing "adds to the breeding toolbox"

An international consortium has decoded the carrot genome, revealing that genes which make them orange are also key to their nutritional value, but not to their flavour.

Image: Rob Bertholf
Image: Rob Bertholf

University of Wisconsin–Madison horticulture professor and geneticist Phil Simon, who led the research team, said: "Now we have the chance to dig deeper and it's a nice addition to the toolbox for improving the crop."

Co-author Allen Van Deynze, Seed Biotechnology Center director of research at the University of California, Davis, added: "This was an important public-private project, and the genomic information has already been made available to assist in improving carrot traits such as enhanced levels of beta-carotene, drought tolerance and disease resistance. Going forward, the genome will serve as the basis for molecular breeding of the carrot."

The study reveals that genes for colour and genes associated with preferred flavours are not connected, and that early breeders' preference for orange carrots was fortuitous as the beta-carotene pigments are what make them nutritious, Simon explained.

"The accumulation of orange pigments is an accumulation that normally wouldn't happen," he said. "It's a repurposing of genes plants usually use when growing in light."

The study is published this week in Nature Genetics.

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