Scientists Sequence Okinawan Sea Grape Genome

Not only did researchers in Japan decode the genome of the Okinawan sea grape, they also compared the genome to 15 other plant genomes to shed light on plant evolution.

AsianScientist (Apr. 15, 2019) – A team of scientists in Japan has sequenced the genome of the Okinawan sea grape. They published their findings in the journal DNA Research.

If you’ve ever dined on the tropical island of Okinawa, Japan, your plate may have been graced by a remarkable pile of seaweed, each strand adorned with tiny green bubbles. Known as umi-budo or sea grapes, the salty snack pairs well with rice, sashimi and a tall glass of beer. But umi-budo is more than an iconic side dish—it is a staple crop for Okinawan farmers.

In the present study, researchers led by Professor Noriyuki Satoh at the Okinawa Institute of Science and Technology (OIST), Japan, has decoded the sea grape genome to learn about the plant’s unique morphology and assist farmers in proper cultivation of the succulent seaweed.

The researchers studied sample sea grapes from the Onna Village Fishery Cooperative, whose greenhouses are located just around the corner from the OIST campus. The scientists deciphered the full sea grape genome and compared it to 15 published plant genomes, collected from unicellular algae, a type of moss, rice and thale cress.

The researchers revealed key genes that allow sea grapes, a unicellular organism, to don its complex shape, and demonstrated the utility of using the algae to explore evolutionary processes in green plants.

With a catalog of all the genes controlling sea grape growth, the researchers may be able to help farmers diagnose diseases or deficiencies in crops when they crop up. The research could also help curb the spread of closely-related green seaweeds, which harm the environment by pushing out local plant varieties in the Mediterranean Sea and Pan-Pacific region.

“Many farmers face problems with sea grapes growing poorly. Today, they don’t know why such problems occur,” said Dr. Asuka Arimoto, first author of the study at the OIST Marine Genomics Unit. “Our genomic data can show them which genes are causing such problems.”

In the future, the OIST Marine Genomics Unit hopes to analyze gene expression as it occurs throughout the sea grape life cycle. For instance, evidence suggests that specific genes are highly expressed in the pollens and eggs of land plants. Such genes may hold similar importance in the early life stages of umi-budo. As sea grape cultivation takes root beyond Okinawa and across the Pacific, this genomic data could help farmers establish more effective growing strategies.

The article can be found at: Arimoto et al. (2019) A Siphonous Macroalgal Genome Suggests Convergent Functions of Homeobox Genes in Algae and Land Plants.


Source: Okinawa Institute of Science and Technology Graduate University.
Disclaimer: This article does not necessarily reflect the views of AsianScientist or its staff.

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