PULLMAN – Realizing a decade-long dream, an international team of scientists today publicly released the peach genome sequence, the first genome completed for crops in the Rosaceae family. The data that comprises the peach genome is housed at WSU on the U.S. Department of Agriculture-funded Genome Database for Rosaceae (www.rosaceae.org).
 
Improvement of traits such as enhanced flavor and disease resistance is now a more efficient prospect for peach and other tree fruit. This new resource will enable targeted, DNA-informed breeding, an approach to developing tasty and nutritious fruit that is both more precise and more economically viable than traditional breeding.
 
The International Peach Genome Initiative’s decision to release the genetic makeup of the peach ahead of publication in a scientific journal could have far-reaching implications for the future of peaches and related Rosaceae plants like almonds, blackberries, apples, cherries, plums, raspberries, roses, strawberries and trees such as poplar, citrus and chestnut.
 
“Having access to even a piece of the genome sequence can save researchers literally years of work,” said Dorrie Main, associate professor of bioinformatics in the WSU Department of Horticulture and Landscape Architecture. Main, who has been working on the peach genome project since 2001, said that making the data publicly available means that scientists investigating genetic sequences to identify the genes controlling important traits in peach or other plants will be able to both use and refine the information immediately.
 
“We are, of course, preparing a paper for publication in a peer-reviewed journal,” said Bryon Sosinski, associate professor of horticultural science at North Carolina State University, project coordinator. “But we wanted to make the sequence data available as soon as possible. Researchers and breeders will be able to use the information starting immediately.”
 
The sequence is of very high resolution , Main said. “An old-school sequencing technique was used that, although slower and more expensive than more current methods, results in very high-quality information.”
 
“In the plant world, this looks like it’s arguably one of the superior genome sequences out there,” Sosinski said. “It’s going to have a lot of utility.”
 
WSU sweet cherry breeder Nnadozie Oraguzie is excited about the release. “This announcement ahead of schedule is welcomed. This information will be of immediate value in my breeding program and allow us to make much quicker progress to develop superior new cultivars for Washington and Oregon cherry growers.”
 
Jim McFerson, manager of the Washington Tree Fruit Research Commission, agreed. “It is tremendously exciting to know that WSU, OSU and USDA researchers will now have access to this critical genomic tool, which has direct applicability to our breeding and physiology programs in apple, cherry and pear. Our investment in bringing world-class faculty and cutting-edge technology to the Pacific Northwest is paying off.  It gives both our researchers and industries a real competitive advantage as well as contributing to the world’s scientific knowledge base.” 
 
“There’s an impression that the DNA sequence will encourage plant genetic modification,” said Cameron Peace, assistant professor of tree fruit genetics in the WSU Department of Horticulture and Landscape Architecture. “That’s unlikely in tree fruit, because there is so much useful diversity out there, such as that stockpiled in collections or hiding in abandoned old orchards and the wild forests of Asia. Previously, breeders could only judge genetic worth by tree performance and fruit appearance, but with the DNA information from the peach genome the genetic potential of every tree can be examined directly. This unlocks a deep treasure chest, putting the riches of biodiversity into our hands.”
 
“With its small size and high resolution, the peach genome serves as a model. As we’ve been able to identify many interesting genes for breeders, the same genes in other crops can be readily detected and deciphered,” Main said. The DNA code for ripening or juiciness, for example, is the same in many plants. Understanding the fundamental biology of fruit quality allows enhancement of these attributes for each crop.”
 
Bioinformaticists such as Main couple the number-crunching power of computers with advanced mathematical techniques to analyze DNA and identify functioning genes. Currently, she and her colleagues are involved in integration and dissemination of genomic information for many species of plants, ranging from cacao to almond to roses.
 
Working with Albert Abbott, professor of plant genetics at Clemson University and Sosinski, Main has worked on development of peach genomic resources since 2001 when she first began analyzing fragments of expressed peach genes. Now, with the peach genome available, access to the full-length genes is available for the first time, along with the sequences that regulate their expression.
 
Many scientific breakthroughs are expected from accessing this fundamental resource. Free access to tools on the Genome Database for Rosaceae allows researchers to explore the peach genome, which is networked to the vast knowledgebase of other plant genomes. Comparing apples with oranges with peaches, scientists ultimately will know what makes each fruit unique. In addition to the WSU site, the genomic data is available online at the Joint Genome Initiative Phytozone Web site (www.phytozome.org/peach) and the Italian Institute of Applied Genomics (http://services.appliedgenomics.org/gbrowse/prunus_public).
 
Sosinski leads the International Peach Genome Initiative, involving scientists in Italy, Spain, Chile and the U.S. Sequencing was funded by the DOE Joint Genome Institute and the Italian government. North Carolina State University, Clemson University and WSU were the other principal U.S. partners.