SÃO PAULO, BRAZIL — An international group led by Brazilian scientists announced it has mapped 99.1% of the total commercial sugarcane genome after almost 20 years of research.
The group mapped 373,869 genes of the total genome, opening possibilities for biotechnology, genetic improvement and gene editing. The endeavor was supported by the São Paulo Research Foundation.
The sugarcane genome with 100 chromosomes and more than 300,000 genes compares with the human genome that has 46 chromosomes and 23,000 genes. Sugarcane has 10 copies of each gene compared with two copies in humans. Sugarcane was the last major commercial crop to be mapped.
Although the first sugarcane genome sequence was announced in 2018, this was the first time nearly all the genes in the sugarcane plant have been seen, the group said, compared to prior projects by other groups in which sequences had to be collapsed for lack of a proper assembly tool, which allowed for only an approximation of the sequence.
Scientists now can work to alter carbon pathways in sugarcane to produce new compounds and bioproducts that will have an impact on the food industry.
Glaucia Mendes Souza, professor at the University of São Paulo’s Chemistry Institute and the lead author of the study, said sugarcane theoretically had the potential to yield more than 380 tonnes per hectare compared with about 80 tonnes currently. Sugarcane has the potential to become a “carbon capture machine” used to mitigate greenhouse bas emissions since is it grown widely around the world.