Sweet! Scientists Decode Genome Of Chinese Licorice

Interestingly, Chinese licorice, which is closely related to the plant used for licorice candy, codes for many more proteins than the human genome.

AsianScientist (Nov. 9, 2016) – Researchers in Japan have decoded the genome of Chinese licorice, a plant that is important for its use in Chinese medicine and as a natural sweetener. The work was published in The Plant Journal.

Chinese licorice (Glycyrrhiza uralensis), which is closely related to the plant used for licorice candy (Glycyrrhiza glabra), is an important component of Chinese traditional medicine. According to Dr. Kazuki Saito of the RIKEN Center for Sustainable Resource Science, who led the team, Chinese licorice is incorporated in approximately 70 percent of the 200 major formulations used in traditional Kampo medicine in Japan. Furthermore, 90 percent of Japanese physicians prescribe Kampo medicine in their practices.

The team chose to examine the genome of Chinese licorice rather than other related species, partly because it is known to contain the highest concentration of glycyrrhizin, a compound that is associated with the medical properties of the plant, which include anti-inflammatory, anti-cancer, anti-allergic, and anti-viral activities.

To conduct the screening, they chose a strain of G. uralensis kept at the Takeda Garden for Medicinal Plant Conservation in Kyoto. Using a combination of long-read and short-read sequencing, and by comparing the genome to published sequences of other legume species, they predicted that the plant’s genome coded just over 34,000 proteins, a number somewhat higher than the 20,000 in the human genome. They focused in particular on two genetic regions—one coding saponins, which are important plant compounds including glycyrrhizin, and the other producing isoflavonoids, which are also known as medicinal components.

“Chinese licorice is an important and heavily-consumed medicinal plant, and we hope that our work will make it possible to carry out molecular breeding to create strains that will grow sustainably in Japan, and which produce large concentrations of useful compounds such as glycyrrhizin,” said Dr. Keiichi Mochida, the first author of the paper.

The article can be found at: Mochida et al. (2016) Draft Genome Assembly and Annotation of Glycyrrhiza Uralensis, a Medicinal Legume.


Source: RIKEN; Photo: Pixabay.
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