An international consortium of universities and institutions has recently completed the first sequencing of the Asiatic pear genome.
“Our role on the team was to work on the strategy for sequencing, analyzing the data, understanding some of the biological processes, and writing the manuscript,” said Dr Schuyler Korban, a plant molecular geneticist with the University of Illinois College of Agricultural, Consumer and Environmental Sciences, whose lab had previously been involved in a consortium that sequenced the woodland strawberry genome.
“We ended up with an assembly that’s 97.1 percent correct rather than 50 or 60 percent,” Dr Korban explained. “Every plant genome is different, but the sequencing technologies have improved, we’ve learned from previous strategies, and the cost is definitely a lot less than when genome sequencing first began.”
China is the number one producer of pear. “The pear actually originated in China 65 million years ago,” Dr Korban said. “It’s the center of the origin of pear, just like most fruits are. China is rich in germplasm.”
Dr Korban explained that there are two major varieties of pear, European and Asiatic. “The Asiatic pear looks nothing like the European pear, like the Bartlett,” Korban said.
The European pear is the more familiar pear-shaped fruit, but the Asiatic pear, Pyrus pyrifolia, is a round fruit that looks like a yellow apple and is often advertised in US grocery stores as an apple pear.
“The Asiatic pear is the most important commercial variety in China,” Dr Korban said. “It’s sweeter, has a high level of antioxidants and is healthy like the apple, but it is higher in lignified cells so when you bite into it, you can feel the grittiness, making it higher in fiber. It’s also more resistant to diseases including fire blight, which the European pear is susceptible to.”
“The knowledge of the pear genome will greatly facilitate comparative genomics study for identification of genes of consumer and grower interest in the Rosaceae family,” Dr Khan said. “Ultimately, this will lead to rapid improvement of the these fruits for disease resistance and fruit quality traits.”