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The complicated perfect peanut. Good luck, peanut genome

The complicated perfect peanut. Good luck, peanut genome

The peanut genome is sequenced, which is a good thing, but that doesn’t mean the industry is looking to develop a GMO peanut. Not that there’s anything wrong with GMO crops. It’s just that the peanut is not moving in that direction.

Background: The peanut genome is complicated because it has two sets of chromosomes, which makes it hard to genetically figure out or to map out. So far, two progenitor wild types have been sequenced.  A cultivated peanut has been sequenced but not assembled.

The peanut genome was official sequenced about two years ago by the International Peanut Genome Initiative, a group of multinational crop geneticists who have been working in tandem for the last several years. But since then, news on the project has abated. That’s why I was glad to hear Steve Brown, the execute director of The Peanut Foundation, give an update on the project to attendees at the annual Georgia Peanut Farm Show and Conference Jan. 21.

The peanut industry invested about $6 million to get this genome work done. Now, the industry just needs to figure out where to go from here, Brown said.

Brown gave an analogy to illustrate the complexity of the peanut genome: Get two dictionaries, one a Webster’s dictionary and another kind of your choosing. Chop up both dictionaries into tiny pieces. Mix the pieces up in a big pickle jar, or bag or whatever, and dump the pieces out on the floor.

Now, piece all those pieces back together, building back each definition correctly and put each correct definition back in its correct dictionary. “And that is where we are with the peanut project right now,” Brown said. “We got all the pieces. Now, we have to put it all together in the right order.”

The peanut industry isn’t large enough for private companies to invest in research and development of breeding lines or improved varieties. The effort to get growers and the industry the better, staying-ahead-of-problems peanut varieties needed today falls exclusively on public breeding programs.

To stay competitive and produce the world's best peanuts

The genome initiative is just another case of the U.S. peanut industry doing what it has to do to stay competitive and continue to produce the world’s best peanuts.

One of the stated goals of the peanut genome initiative is to foster marker assisted breeding, which promises to give breeders tools to custom design better peanut varieties. But to tell your under-informed neighbors or your well-meaning Sunday school class that the Peanut Genome Initiative isn’t looking to promote a GMO peanut; not that there’s anything wrong with that. There is no commercially available GMO peanut.

All the genome project has to do now is blaze the path to a perfect peanut: a peanut that growers can economically grow for good yields and lower production costs, shellers like to shell, manufactures like to buy (with the right kind of oil and oil content), a peanut that roasts or squeezes or dances just right and that tastes really, really good to everybody.

Good luck genome project.

All pithy comments to the side, the U.S. peanut industry is lucky or just plain wise in its mature ways to come together and cooperate on such things as the peanut genome. It’s lucky to have the breeders and breeding programs which have so greatly benefitted the industry over the decades and certainly now.

Some say the peanut industry is playing catch up to other crops in getting the peanut genome understood. Maybe. But the U.S. peanut industry has done a heck of a lot through cooperation and pure grit to become the world leader it is today. You take that kind of grit and cooperation and put new tools at its finger tips, well, what the peanut and the U.S. industry will do with it in the future will be impressive.

How or to what extent new developments from technology gets shared around the peanut world, well, that’s a can of worms that’s eventually going to have to be picked up, tossed around and put back together, too.

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