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Crop Biotech Update

First Marine Flowering Plant Genome Sequenced

February 3, 2016

An international research team from Europe and the United States have sequenced the genome of the seagrass Zostera marina, an eelgrass taken from the Archipelago Sea off Finland. It is the first marine flowering plant to be fully sequenced, and its genome provides insight to extreme genetic plant adaptations. Eelgrass was once a flowering land plant that evolved over millions of years to become an ocean-dwelling seagrass, and researchers are interested in understanding how the plant adapts to climate change.

The research team compared the eelgrass genome with the freshwater plant duckweed and noted differences in genes related to cell wall structure due to adaptations to freshwater or terrestrial conditions. For example, the duckweed lost genes that help plants retain water in the cell wall, while eelgrass regained these genes to better deal with osmotic stress at low tide.

Study lead author Jeanine Olsen of the University of Groningen in the Netherlands said that the eelgrass re-engineered itself, noting the changes affecting the plant's cell walls. She added that crop breeders may benefit from lessons on how salt tolerance has evolved in these plants.

For more details, read the news release at the US Department of Energy's Joint Genome Institute website.