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Peanut Genome Initiative starts phase 2, including flavor research

Can we breed a peanut plant for flavor? The people at The Peanut Foundation think so.

The foundation, which initiated the Peanut Genome Initiative to map the genetic code of the peanut plant, is proposing a second phase of the work. Phase II of the initiative would use the genomic (not GMO) tools developed during the first phase to breed peanuts with improved traits, including:

  • disease resistance (initially focusing on leafspot);
  • aflatoxin resistance;
  • drought tolerance; and
  • flavor conservation.

Flavor conservation was perhaps the most controversial part of this proposal, the foundation said, as some people believe that flavor traits are too complex and genetic traits are inseparable from environmental factors.

But research into other foods has tied flavor to genes, including tomato, which lost genes for flavor as breeders selected for color, shelf-life and other traits.

In. a recent paper published in “Nature,” researchers describe a rare allele selected against during domestication that impacts the flavor of commercial tomatoes.

In general, the second phase of the Peanut Genome Initiative will focus on marker assisted selection technologies that improve and speed the peanut breeding process and will not invest in GMO research at this time.

While the USDA has ruled that gene editing does not result in a GMO, the European Union recently ruled that gene editing is a GMO technique. Therefore, given the importance of exports to U.S. peanut growers, shellers and manufacturers, The Peanut Foundation will not invest in gene editing research that would result in what the EU would consider a GMO peanut. However, the foundation would consider supporting research where gene editing is used only as a research tool that helps the research community to understand how peanut genes work.

Read the full Phase II plan here.