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Genetic Analysis Helps Predict Sunflower Oil Properties

Researchers from Skoltech and the University of Southern California analyzed a Russian sunflower collection.

MOSCOW — Researchers from Moscow’s Skoltech Institute of Science and Technology and the University of Southern California performed genetic analysis on a Russian sunflower collection.

The research, published in the open-access genomics journal BMC Genomics, identified genetic markers that can help predict sunflower oil’s fatty acid composition.

Genomic selection, which helps quickly create new crop varieties, has been a much-discussed topic worldwide for the last 10 years. DNA sequencing and extensive genotyping have been applied to obtain genetic profiles of crops.

When analyzed and compared to field data, those profiles help identify genetic markers for traits of interest to farming and predict the properties and value of a crop based on its genetic profile alone.

“Our work is the first large-scale study of the Russian sunflower genetic collection and one of the first attempts to create new varieties using genomic selection,” Alina Chernova, Skoltech Ph.D. and lead author of the study, said.

“Predicting what a plant will be like before actually planting it—an idea that seemed utterly unrealistic until recently—has become commonplace in many countries thanks to technological advances.”

Chernova said that classical breeding could hardly cope with the challenges posed by global climate change, growing human needs, and evolving food quality requirements. 

“To get a head start, we should turn to genetics,” she said.

This long-term research project has been carried out by a joint team led by Skoltech professor Philipp Khaitovich. It includes scientists from Skoltech, the University of Southern California, Vavilov All-Russian Institute of Plant Genetic Resources in northwest Russia, and Pustovoit All-Russian Research Institute of Oil Crops, joined by breeders from the seed-producing company Agroplasma.

The team looked at species from two major Russian sunflower gene banks and Agroplasma’s collection. Their genetic analysis covered 601 lines of cultivated sunflower to check genetic diversity against the global collection and compare the results with chemical tests of oil obtained from these lines. 

Bioinformatic analysis revealed genetic markers that can help control the oil’s fatty acid content.

“The reason we chose the sunflower is that it is a key source of vegetable fats, and Russia is the world’s leading supplier of sunflower oil,” Skoltech Ph.D. student and study co-author Rim Gubaev said. 

The oil’s fatty composition, which was the focus of this research, can be varied, Rim said, to obtain oils with different properties suitable for roasting, dressings, or industrial uses.

“Thanks to this project, we have gained valuable insights and built a team of like-minded people keen on helping breeders to introduce genetics in their work. We have founded Oil Gene — it’s a start-up that will focus on practical tasks and provide genomic selection services,” Gubaev said.

(With inputs from ANI)

(Edited by Amrita Das and Krishna Kakani)

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