Scientists Decode Olive Tree Genome

A team of scientists from Spain have published the complete genome of the olive tree for the first time.

Jun. 30, 2016
By Isabel Putinja

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Researchers from the Centre for Genomic Regulation (CRG), the Real Jardín Botánico (CSIC-RJB) and the Centro Nacional de Análisis Genómico (CNAG-CRG) decoded the olive tree genome by using a 1,300-year-old spec­i­men belong­ing to the Spanish Farga vari­ety as a ref­er­ence.

Over the past 10 years, a num­ber of plant species have had their genetic code assem­bled, anno­tated, and made pub­licly avail­able. Now the olive tree can be added to this list of sequenced plant genomes. The three-year research project was funded by the Spanish bank, Banco Santander, and pub­lished on June 27, 2016 in GigaScience, an open-data jour­nal

The research project was coor­di­nated by Pablo Vargas, a researcher from CSIC Real Jardín Botánico, who explained the process in a news release:

There are three phases to genome sequenc­ing: first, iso­late all of the genes, which we pub­lished two years ago. Second, assem­ble the genome, which is a mat­ter of order­ing those genes one after the other, like link­ing up loose phrases in a book. Last, iden­tify all of the genes, or bind­ing the book. The lat­ter two phases are what we have done and are now pre­sent­ing.”

Pablo Vargas (CSIC)

During the iden­ti­fi­ca­tion process of the olive tree’s genes, the researchers dis­cov­ered that it had over 56,000 genes, much more than other plant species, and dou­ble that of the human genome.

The researchers have also revealed that by using a 1,300-year-old spec­i­men of an olive tree, this was the first time that such an old indi­vid­ual” has had its genome sequenced. Up to now, all of the indi­vid­u­als sequenced, from the fruit fly (Drosophila melanogaster) to the first human being ana­lyzed, have lived for a cer­tain time, depend­ing on their lim­ited life expectancy. This is the first time that the DNA of an indi­vid­ual over 1,000 years old, and that will prob­a­bly live another 1,300 years, has been sequenced,” revealed researchers Pablo Vargas and Toni Gabaldón (CRG).


Understanding the olive tree’s genetic code will help sci­en­tists under­stand a vari­ety of fac­tors related to the tree, includ­ing its longevity, its adapt­abil­ity to arid con­di­tions, and dif­fer­ences between the vari­eties, sizes and fla­vor of olives. Ultimately, this will also facil­i­tate new research into genetic improve­ment for the pro­duc­tion of olives and olive oil, and how to pro­tect the olive tree from bac­te­ria and infec­tions.

In order to facil­i­tate fur­ther research, the com­plete sequenc­ing of the olive tree genome has been made avail­able in the pub­lic domain on the GigaScience GigaDB data­base.


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