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Scientists are unlocking secrets to pineapple’s ability to tolerate drought

Two slices of pineapple fruit

Image: Wikimedia Commons

Led by a Texas A&M AgriLife Research scientist, an international effort to sequence the pineapple’s genome has unlocked information about the fruit’s drought tolerance, the way it converts light to energy and what those characteristics could mean for the future of world food production.

Seventy scientists from 25 organizations across six countries contributed to the effort led by Qingyi Yu, an associate professor with Texas A&M AgriLife Research, based at the Texas A&M AgriLife Research and Extension Center at Dallas.  The results of the team’s work were published in Nature Genetics.

“The biggest implications from sequencing the pineapple genome come from discovering how to apply the plant’s photosynthesis to other major food crops for sustainability,” Yu said.

Pineapples use a type of photosynthesis called CAM, or crassulacean acid metabolism, one of three types of photosynthesis in plants. Most crop plants use C3 photosynthesis, others use C4.

CAM uses 20 to 80 percent less water than C3 or C4 to produce the same size plant. Plants that use CAM can also grow in desert areas, one example being cacti.

Understanding the genome of the pineapple and how it photosynthesizes could lead scientists to engineering drought-tolerant and heat-resistant CAM photosynthesis in C3 crops like rice and wheat.

“We have seen from mapping the pineapple’s genome  that CAM photosynthesis applications could hold major significance for the entire culture of food production,” Yu said.

Yu’s counterparts in the project were Ray Ming, plant biologist at Fujian Agriculture and Forestry University, and Robert E. Paull, plant physiologist at the University of Hawaii.