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Genome Of ‘Sacred Lotus’ May Hold Anti-Aging Secrets

Researchers have sequenced the genome of the ‘sacred lotus,’ which is known from the geologic record as early as 135 million years ago, when dinosaurs roamed the Earth.

| May 13, 2013 | In the Lab

AsianScientist (May 13, 2013) – More than 70 scientists from the U.S., China, Australia and Japan have published the annotated genome sequence of the “sacred lotus,” which is known from the geologic record as early as 135 million years ago, when dinosaurs roamed the Earth.

The scientists sequenced more than 86 percent of the nearly 27,000 genes of the lotus plant. Nelumbo nucifera is revered in China and elsewhere as a symbol of spiritual purity and longevity, and has been grown for at least 4,000 years in China for both food and medicine.

In the early 1990s, Jane Shen-Miller, one of three corresponding authors of the research and a senior scientist with University of California-Los Angeles’s (UCLA) Center for the Study of Evolution and the Origin of Life, led a research team that recovered a viable lotus seed that was almost 1,300 years old from a lake bed in northeastern China. It was a remarkable discovery, given that many other plant seeds are known to remain viable for just 20 years or less.

In a second visit in 1996, Shen-Miller collected about 100 lotus seeds from China’s Liaoning province with help from local farmers. To the researchers’ surprise, more than 80 percent of the 400- to 500-year-old lotus seeds that were tested for viability germinated. That indicated that the plant must have a powerful genetic system capable of repairing germination defects arising from hundreds of years of aging, Shen-Miller said.

“The lotus genome is an ancient one, and we now know its ABCs,” said Shen-Miller. “Molecular biologists can now more easily study how its genes are turned on and off during times of stress and why this plant’s seeds can live for 1,300 years. This is a step toward learning what anti-aging secrets the sacred lotus plant may offer.”

The genome sequence, published in the journal Genome Biology, reveals that the lotus bears the closest resemblance to the ancestor of all eudicots, a broad category of flowering plants that includes the apple, peanut, tomato, cotton, cactus, and tobacco plants.

The lotus forms a separate branch of the eudicot family tree; it lacks a signature triplication of the genome seen in most other members of this family, said Ray Ming, professor of plant biology at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, who led the analysis with Shen-Miller and Shaohua Li, director of the Wuhan Botanical Garden at the Chinese Academy of Sciences.

Whole-genome duplications – the doubling or tripling of an organism’s entire genetic endowment – are important events in plant evolution, Ming said. Some of the duplicated genes retain their original structure and function, and others gradually adapt and take on new functions. If those changes are beneficial, the genes persist; if they’re harmful, they disappear from the genome.

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’ genetic repair mechanisms could be very useful if they could be transferred to humans or to crops – such as rice, corn, and wheat – whose seeds have life spans of only a few years.

“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 article can be found at: Ming R et al. (2013) Genome of the long-living sacred lotus (Nelumbo nucifera Gaertn.).

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Source: UCLA; Photo: Marufish/Flickr/CC.
Disclaimer: This article does not necessarily reflect the views of AsianScientist or its staff.

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