Quinoa is a South American grain widely known as a "super-food" for its well balanced and gluten-free components. However, prices for quinoa have rocketed in recent years as demand exceeded supply. Thus, researchers are figuring a way to produce quinoa without its accompanying high costs of production.
Due to the nutritional composition and the fact that quinoa is gluten-free, as well as it's high in protein and moderate in carbohydrate, the grain's international demand peaked fast. Between 2006 and 2013, the price of quinoa tripled because it was acknowledged as a "super-food" in Europe and the US.
Genome sequencing paved way to cheap production of quinoa (c) sndimg.com
Fortunately, an international team of scientists says that they have studied
the genetic makeup of the crop. The researchers have produced the highest quality quinoa gene using a combination of techniques including genome sequencing.
"By sequencing the genome we have provided the foundation to enable breeders to work much faster and more powerfully," project leader Prof Mark Tester, from King Abdullah University of Science and Technology (KAUST), told BBC News.
"Especially the seeds, they will be able to develop a lot more varieties for different conditions, they will help us make a designer plant."
Quinoa seeds itself have saponins, which are bitter and toxic compounds that protects the plant from predators. Removal of saponins for human consumption is what makes the costs rise up for processing.
"We've pinpointed one of the genes that we believe controls the production of saponins in quinoa which would facilitate the breeding of plants without saponins to make the seeds taste sweeter," said Prof Tester.
After eating massive amounts of quinoa in expensive healthy restaurant
"For the saponins, that benefit can now be delivered to farmers through conventional breeding. We are putting the breeding into turbo charge, we are putting the breeding on steroids."
The researchers at KAUST believe that the genetic understanding will allow them to breed shorter, stockier plants that don't fall over as easily, and these benefits could be gained without the use of genetic modification. They said that these new breeds may let quinoa growing in more parts of the world. Thus, the greater supply will push down the price.
Saponins, technically, make quinoa expensive (c) bbc.com
"We need the price of quinoa to go down by a factor of five," said Prof Tester.
"If we get to a similar price to wheat it can be used in processing and in bread making and in many other foods and products. It has the chance to truly add to current world food production."
More scientists from all over the world have welcomed the news that the quinoa genome has been sequenced.
"The quinoa DNA sequence information is extremely valuable for identifying key genes controlling important agronomic traits and for identifying genetic variability among the cultivars," said Dr Sven-Erik Jacobsen from the University of Copenhagen in a statement.
"Now breeders can go into quinoa genomic library for the information that will help speed up the breeding process."