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Genomics & biotechnology

 

IRTA’s Plant Genomics and Biotechnology programme combines both fundamental and applied research to understand the genome variability of crops and the inheritance of traits of agronomic interest, with the final objective of applying this knowledge to crop improvement.

The staff includes experts in different areas, such as genetics, genomics, molecular biology, plant pathology and bioinformatics, which generate new knowledge applicable to a wide range of horticultural species with main interest in Cucurbitaceae and Rosaceae.

This programme also develops methodological approaches useful for breeding through cooperative contracts with the private sector. Our research is carried out at the Centre for Research in Agricultural Genomics (CRAG) a consortium composed of IRTA, CSIC, UAB and UB, and is physically based at the Autonomous University of Barcelona (UAB), one of the main universities in Catalonia.

 

Areas of expertise

 

Genetics and genomics of vegetable crops

Our research focuses on developing genomic tools to characterize important agronomic traits in melon and related species, in the framework of public funded projects or seed companies.

In melon, the programme has coordinated the sequencing of the melon genome and we are improving the assembly quality with the use of single molecule sequencing technologies. We are implementing bioinformatic analysis pipelines to exploit all the genomic information available in the species. We are also studying the genetic variability of the species by resequencing a wide collection of melon accessions. We have recently identified and characterised two genes controlling important agronomic traits, climacteric ripening and resistance to viruses. We have also identified new QTLs involved in fruit quality and fruit ripening, with the ultimate objective of dissecting the genetic control of climacteric ripening. For virus resistance, we are also characterizing additional QTLs necessary for that. We are also implementing gene editing technologies based in CRISPR/Cas9 in melon and tomato.

 

Rosaceae Genetics and Genomics

We are interested in different aspects of Rosaceae genome organization, variability and evolution that help to elucidate the genetics of important agricultural characters. The species studied include peach and strawberry as major crops and almond, apricot, Japanese plum, cherry, apple, pear, raspberry and blackberry as secondary related crops. Our aim is to apply this information to improve plant breeding efficiency in collaboration with the breeding companies working with us.

In fruit trees, the programme is conducting linkage mapping and genome-wide association studies using existing genetic variability and next-generation sequencing (NGS) technologies, as well as comparative genome analysis between different rosaceous species. The group is interested in understanding the genetics of fruit quality and agricultural traits, and developing strategies for fast and efficient introgression of valuable genes from wild or cultivated relatives into high quality peach cultivars.

Research on strawberries focuses on the comparison of the genomes of diploid (wild) and octoploid (cultivated) strawberries, to characterise QTLs associated with the nutritional quality of the fruit, such as sugar, polyphenol content and aromas.

 

In Plant Genomics and Biotechnology programme we are developing tools, as SNP sets, and resources in several plant species, to facilitate basic and applied studies. These tools are a source of high-quality markers for marker-assisted selection (MAS) or prebreeding materials, useful for breeding programs. We apply breeding strategies for clonally-propagated perennial species (such as fruit trees), including collections of introgression lines (peach-almond, climacteric-non climacteric melon and F. vesca-F. bucharica).

 


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