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Sex-determining gene in papayas could lead to improved production

Image: Texas A&M AgriLife

A gene that dictates which of three sexes a papaya tree will become, before seed germination, could spur a leap in the ultra-nutritious crop’s production.

This genetic discovery in sex determination would also move growers a little closer to profitable papaya production in controlled environments, like greenhouses, across the globe.

Qingyi Yu, associate professor, Department of Plant Pathology and Microbiology, College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, and with Texas A&M AgriLife Research in Dallas, believes her team, including collaborators from the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, has discovered such a gene.

Sex determination of Caricaceae – the plant family encompassing papaya – is a primary focus of Yu’s lab. Her goal is to produce seeds predetermined to grow into hermaphrodite trees, which include male and female characteristics. They are the most viable sex for papaya production.

Male trees produce only pollen while females cannot produce fruit without a male nearby. But the hermaphrodite uses its male and female sex organs to self-pollinate, producing papayas more efficiently than male-female combinations.

The gene Yu’s team has identified is a strong candidate for controlling sex development of papaya at the seed stage. If her lab can produce a clone of the candidate gene, trial testing of its effectiveness can commence.