An Italian-led research team composed of ENEA, CREA and the University of Verona and Turin has decoded the genome of the aubergine, opening new avenues for the cultivation of varieties that are increasingly resistant to the consequences of climate change, such as drought. The study, published in the Scientific Reports of the Nature group (https://www.nature.com/articles/s41598-019-47985-w), was conducted in collaboration with the University of Naples, the Weizmann Institute and the University of California.
“The aubergine, like the potato and the tomato whose genomes we decoded in 2011 and 2012, belongs to the Solanaceae family which includes about 2.500 different species. The genomic sequence confirmed that the great morphological diversity of the Solanaceae was generated starting from a very similar number of genes (about 35.000 in each of the three species). In addition to the most common eggplant in Italy - the Solanum melongena species - there are about fifty related species in nature, some of which are at risk of extinction due to climate change ", explains Giovanni Giuliano, research manager of the ENEA Division of Biotechnology and Agro-industry.
“The sequenced aubergine (called 67/3) was developed by CREA by crossing the“ Tunisian ”variety of the typically Italian type Violetta with a line of Asian origin, to correct the defect of the soft pulp that absorbs a lot of oil in cooking. The progeny was then continuously selected for the following 6 years, up to the 67/3, from which we formed numerous related families, which allowed us to correctly order the sequences of the genome. This allowed us to understand the genetic basis of a series of important agronomic traits, accelerating genetic improvement programs, through molecular markers associated with the genes of interest. In particular, we focused on the genes involved in the coloring and ripening of the fruit and in the resistance to fungal pathogens ”, explains Giuseppe Leonardo Rotino, research director at CREA Genomics and Bionformatics.
“The genome was obtained through a combination of latest generation sequencing technologies and optical mapping. The quality of the data is very high and testifies to how much Italian skills in the field of genomics have grown ", comments Massimo Delle donne, professor of Genetics at the Department of Biotechnology of the University of Verona.
“Aubergine is one of the most consumed vegetables in the world and Italy is its main European producer. It was domesticated over 2.000 years ago in Asia and underwent a genetic 'bottleneck' which reduced its biodiversity and resistance to disease and environmental stress. The decoding of the genome has already allowed us to start exploring the genetic "pool" of the aubergine and will contribute to overcoming these problems "clarifies Sergio Lanteri, professor of Agricultural Genetics at the Department of Agricultural, Forestry and Agri-Food Sciences of the University of Turin .