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Crop Biotech Update

Researchers Sequence Shea Tree Genome to Support Breeding, Conservation Efforts

September 15, 2021

An international team of researchers led by the University of New Hampshire (UNH) has sequenced the genome of the shea tree, providing a valuable resource for the strategic development of the species and contributing to its preservation.

The tree is known for the popular product shea butter, a multimillion-dollar ingredient used in cosmetics, personal care products, pharmaceuticals, and chocolate. For hundreds of thousands of African families living in the "shea belt" it is also a crucial source of nutrition and income. Despite increasing demand for shea butter, the slow-growing shea tree is being threatened by other cash crops, and its preservation most likely lies in its genetic improvement.

The researchers assembled a chromosome-scale reference genome for the shea tree. Like the human genome, the shea tree genome contains genes for traits helping researchers to determine tree characteristics. Genome annotation led to the identification of 38,505 coding genes. Further comparative sequencing with a diverse collection of trees revealed nearly 3.5 million natural genetic variations, known as single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs), that can be used to distinguish trees and begin to understand the genetics underlying important attributes.

For more details, read the news article in UNH Today.

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