UF/IFAS scientists sequence DNA for cultivating better Florida mangoes

Posted 3/26/21

A team of scientists at the University of Florida have sequenced the genome of the internationally important ‘Tommy Atkins’ mango...

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UF/IFAS scientists sequence DNA for cultivating better Florida mangoes

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HOMESTEAD — A team of scientists at the University of Florida have sequenced the genome of the internationally important ‘Tommy Atkins’ mango – a variety that originated from Florida and that is valued for its very long shelf life, pest resilience, and other key beneficial traits.

While it is not considered the tastiest, it stands as one of the most globally important mango varieties.

The scientists at UF’s Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences are working on growing the domestic mango industry in the Sunshine State knowing the potential for greater profit, export volumes, and wider consumer demand.

“We now have the complete genetic instructions of the ‘Tommy Atkins’ which is a primary export mango,” said Alan Chambers, a tropical plant geneticist at UF/IFAS Tropical Research and Education Center. “We can now use this as a tool to answer questions like, ‘Why does Tommy Atkins have such a great peel color?’ ‘Why is Tommy Atkins so disease-resistant?’ ‘What makes Tommy Atkins so great for shipping?’”

The genome is an organism’s complete set of genetic instructions. Each genome contains all the information needed to build that organism and allows it to grow and develop successfully. The instructions in a genome are made up of DNA, which contains a unique chemical code that guides development, growth and health.

Chambers and team believe their work is an essential tool that will be used to help grow mango varieties that consumers and farmers desire.

“With these instructions we can start to compare different plants,” he said. “For example, those instructions can help us understand why one plant has a red peel versus a yellow peel, or why one mango tastes like pineapple. The same instructions help us to find the DNA responsible for those differences,” said Chambers.

Results of the study “The ‘Tommy Atkins’ mango genome reveals candidate genes for fruit quality” were published recently in BMC Biology, an open access peer-reviewed journal. Chambers expects this will be the guide researchers have been looking for to start comparing different varieties that can help explain what creates different traits among the many varieties.

In the case of the ‘Tommy Atkins’ and as part of the UF/IFAS breeding program, this is a milestone.

“This will eventually benefit the development of new mango cultivars that are better than what we currently have and faster through plant breeding. The global initiative connects expertise, technology, and interested researchers that create true synergy. None of us can do this alone,” he said.

India grows more mangoes than any other country in the world with annual production estimated at more than 18 million tons. Meanwhile, Asia grows 75 percent of all mangoes in the world. The United States is a major global importer of mangoes, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Today most mangoes found in grocery stores throughout the United States were grown in Mexico, Haiti, South America and Florida. The United States, which estimates its market size for mangoes to be 250,000 tons, imports the fruit mainly from Mexico and other Central American countries.

Imported mangoes must be picked prior to peak quality and are quarantine-treated prior to shipping to control insects. The quarantine treatment heats the mangoes and isn’t great for consumer quality. Mangoes grown in Florida don’t have to be treated and can be grown for better taste.

“Everything related to genetic or plant breeding research is more efficient with a genome,” said Chambers. “This research unlocks all the potential for developing better quality mangoes that can yield better tastes, texture, disease resilience, marketability – all in support of a domestic industry.”

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