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Native plant shares its secrets

Native plant shares its secrets

Scientists have sequenced one of New Zealand’s most important indigenous plants and are making the data available to tāngata whenua and New Zealand’s research community.

Mānuka (Leptosperumum scoparium) is a taonga, or treasured, plant for Māori and has special significance for the New Zealand people, particularly for the healing properties found in honey produced from its nectar. The sequencing of the mānuka genome, or genetic blueprint, will allow Māori to understand the provenance (whakapapa) of and protect varieties of mānuka of particular significance to their region, as well as help scientists understand the origins and genetic diversity of mānuka found in New Zealand. The information can also be used to support the future breeding of new varieties with key characteristics desired by honey and food ingredient producers.

“The genome sequence of plants can tell us their story in a very detailed way – from where the plant first originated to the slight differences seen from place to place across the country,” says Dr Bruce Campbell, COO of Plant & Food Research. “For mānuka, this information can be used in a variety of ways – to protect the species from potential pest and disease threats, as a tool to allow us to domesticate the plant through targeted breeding, or in understanding how different genetic profiles of the plant influence honey characteristics. The information held in the mānuka genome sequence holds a range of cultural, conservation and commercial implications for New Zealand.”

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Te Tumu Mīere, a Māori-owned company established to support the New Zealand honey industry and championed by Te Tumu Paeroa, the new Māori Trustee, is supportive of the research.

“Identifying and knowing the regional provenance of mānuka is highly important for us to be informed of the whakapapa of these mānuka species,” says Shar Amner, General Manager of Te Tumu Mīere. “For Te Tumu Mīere, the results and knowledge from this research will support the ongoing work we are developing for and on behalf of landowners.”

The mānuka genome is approximately 300Mb (300 million DNA base pairs), organised into 11 pairs of chromosomes. It is about half the size of its closest relative with a sequenced genome, the flooded or rose gum Eucalyptus grandis (640Mb), and some conservation of gene content and DNA sequences are expected between the two species. The scientists used ‘Crimson Glory’, a widely available ornamental mānuka variety with well documented lineage, to construct the reference sequence.

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