Research Highlights

Extremophile plant's genome sequenced

Published online 16 August 2011

Mohammed Yahia

Thellungiella parvula is a plant able to survive in habitats of harsh conditions and poor resources – an extremophile. A team of researchers from the United States, Saudi Arabia and Korea used next-generation DNA sequencing tools to assemble the draft genome of this species in a bid to understand how it evolved its hardy disposition.

The researchers compared T. parvula to Arabidopsis thaliana, a close relative with a similarly sized genome that is, however, stress-sensitive. They publish their findings in Nature Genetics.

The two plants vastly differ in genetic information, mainly through tandem duplications of genes. Many of these duplicated genes are responsible for encoding functions essential for the survival of T. parvula in harsh environments. In contrast, duplicated genes present in A. thaliana are suited to moist, cool environments.

The nature of these duplicated genes means they may have played a role in the evolution of T. parvula to tolerate stress. The researchers contend that detailed examination of the genome structure and its complex genes, and analyzing the enzymes encoded by the duplicated genes, especially with comparison to stress-sensitive plants, can help us understand how T. parvula thrives in harsh conditions. This could help scientists build stress defenses into crop plants, which are usually unable to grow in stressful environments.

"Drought and salt tolerance in plants have been studied for decades and little progress have been made with genetic engineering of modifications to a few genes," said Maheshi Dassanayake, plant biologist at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign in the United Staes and lead author of the paper. "With the T. parvula genome we are a step closer to understanding nature's solutions to drought, salinity, cold, and low nutrient soils and adapt successful strategies into our crop plants."


  1. Dassanayake M. et al. The genome of the extremophile crucifer Thellungiella parvula. Nature Genetics (07 August 2011) doi:10.1038/ng.889