Finger millet has two important properties: The grain is rich in important minerals and resistant towards drought and heat. Thanks to a novel combination of state-of-the-art technologies, researchers at the University of Zurich were able to decode the large and extremely complex genome of finger millet in high quality for the first time. This represents a fundamental basis for improving food security in countries like India and parts of Africa.
For many poor farmers in India and Africa, finger millet is a major staple food. The crop species is not only a rich source of minerals like calcium, iron, magnesium and zinc, and it contains many vitamins and essential amino acids.
The plant is also characterized by its resistance to drought and heat. As it is very healthy and gluten-free, it is finding increased use as a food in industrial countries as well. Despite its importance, finger millet has been given very little scientific attention until now.
Large and complex genome due to fusion of two plant species
Finger millet arose through the hybridization of two different plant species. The plant is therefore polyploid, which means it has a four-fold set of chromosomes and almost twice as many genes as its original species.
The size and complexity of the genome are thought to have conferred the broad environmental tolerance of finger millet, while making genome research extremely difficult. For the first time, an international team of researchers from the University of Zurich has now managed to decode the complex genome of finger millet in great detail. It comprises about 2.6 million base pairs and has more than 62,300 genes – about twice as many as rice, for example.
New strategy for genome sequencing and mapping
A good 57,900 finger millet genes – over 90 percent – occur in more than two copies. As their DNA sequences are very similar, it was difficult to correctly allocate the numerous, decoded DNA sections within the entire genome. In cooperation with Ralph Schlapbach and Sirisha Aluri from the Functional Genomics Center at the University of Zurich and ETH Zurich, the team headed up by Kentaro Shimizu, professor at the UZH Department of Evolutionary Biology and Environmental Studies, has managed to overcome these difficulties.
For this purpose, the scientists combined a sophisticated bioinformatics strategy developed by Masaomi Hatakeyama that uses state-of-the-art sequencing methods with a new technology that can optically map the long, individual DNA molecules in the genome. “Our newly developed strategy will help sequence the genome of other polyploid cultivated plants that have not been able to be determined until now,” Shimizu says.
Improving the supply of nutrients and drought resistance
An interdisciplinary team of researchers from Zurich and Bangalore, India, worked together on this project. The work was supported by Indo-Swiss Collaboration in Biotechnology (ISCB), a bilateral research and development program financed by the Swiss and Indian governments, as well as by the Japan Science and Technology Agency. The objective is to improve food security and to develop the capacity of biotechnological research in India.
“The newly available genome data of finger millet opens up numerous possibilities for modern plant breeding,” Shimizu emphasizes. “On the one hand, to help people with mineral deficiencies in India and in industrialized countries and, on the other hand, to make important crop plants more resistant to drought and aridness.”
Masaomi Hatakeyama, Sirisha Aluri, Mathi Thumilan Balachadran, Sajeevan Radha Sivarajan, Andrea Patrignani, Simon Grüter, Lucy Poveda, Rie Shimizu-Inatsugi, John Baeten, Kees-Jan Francoijs, Karaba N. Nataraja, Yellodu A. Nanja Reddy, Shamprasad Phadnis, Ramapura L. Ravikumar, Ralph Schlapbach, Sheshshayee M. Sreeman and Kentaro K. Shimizu. Multiple hybrid de novo genome assembly of finger millet, an orphan allotetraploid crop. DNA Research. 5 September 2017. DOI: 10.1093/dnares/dsx036
Prof. Dr. Kentaro K. Shimizu
Department of Evolutionary Biology and Environmental Sciences
University of Zurich
Phone: +41 44 635 67 40
Kurt Bodenmüller | Universität Zürich
Gut microbiome regulates the intestinal immune system, researchers find
19.12.2018 | Brown University
Greener days ahead for carbon fuels
19.12.2018 | DOE/Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory
Different eras of civilization are defined by the discovery of new materials, as new materials drive new capabilities. And yet, identifying the best material...
Researchers from the University of Basel have reported a new method that allows the physical state of just a few atoms or molecules within a network to be controlled. It is based on the spontaneous self-organization of molecules into extensive networks with pores about one nanometer in size. In the journal ‘small’, the physicists reported on their investigations, which could be of particular importance for the development of new storage devices.
Around the world, researchers are attempting to shrink data storage devices to achieve as large a storage capacity in as small a space as possible. In almost...
The more objects we make "smart," from watches to entire buildings, the greater the need for these devices to store and retrieve massive amounts of data quickly without consuming too much power.
Millions of new memory cells could be part of a computer chip and provide that speed and energy savings, thanks to the discovery of a previously unobserved...
What if, instead of turning up the thermostat, you could warm up with high-tech, flexible patches sewn into your clothes - while significantly reducing your...
A widely used diabetes medication combined with an antihypertensive drug specifically inhibits tumor growth – this was discovered by researchers from the University of Basel’s Biozentrum two years ago. In a follow-up study, recently published in “Cell Reports”, the scientists report that this drug cocktail induces cancer cell death by switching off their energy supply.
The widely used anti-diabetes drug metformin not only reduces blood sugar but also has an anti-cancer effect. However, the metformin dose commonly used in the...
12.12.2018 | Event News
10.12.2018 | Event News
06.12.2018 | Event News
19.12.2018 | Materials Sciences
19.12.2018 | Materials Sciences
19.12.2018 | Life Sciences