One of the world’s rarest tree
species has been transformed into a sophisticated model that University of
Queensland researchers say is the future of plant research.
“Macadamia jansenii is a
critically endangered species of macadamia which was only described as a new
species in 1991,” said Robert Henry, Professor of Innovation at the Queensland
Alliance for Agriculture and Food Innovation (QAAFI).
“It grows near Miriam Vale in
Queensland and there are only around 100 known trees in existence.”
However, with funding from Hort
Innovation’s Tree Genomics project, and UQ’s Genome Innovation Hub Macadamia
jansenii has now become the world’s most sophisticated plant research model.
Professor Henry said Macadamia
jansenii was probably the best studied species on the planet in terms of its
“Macadamia jansenii has
potentially become the model for assembling all future plant genomes,” he said.
Professor Henry said the entire
jansenii species grows in one small area.
“This means we have the potential
to study the diversity of the whole species,” he said.
“This is unusual, even for rare or
endangered plants – it means we can get a lot of information about how rare
plant species survive the impact of small population size and the associated
Professor Henry said that
particular characteristics of Macadamia jansenii made it useful for improving
the technology and methodology for sequencing and assembling plant genomes.
“We investigated the different
sequencing technologies, all the different software and algorithms that you can
use in genomic sequencing, and then applied each of them to the same sample to
find out what worked best,” he said.
“It’s a long, complex and very
expensive process, so we wanted to use the latest technology to improve its
The Genome Innovation Hub’s Ms
Valentine Murigneux analysed the genome sequence and QAAFI researchers then
assembled all 14 chromosomes for the species, in collaboration with
laboratories in the United States. This work was published in GigaScience.
Professor Henry said the work is
of great interest globally.
“High quality genome sequences are
proving much more useful than rough draft sequences with less errors and better
outcomes for plant breeding,” he said.
Macadamia jansenii was first
brought to the attention of Western plant scientists in 1983, by Ray Jansen, a
canefarmer and skilled amateur botanist from a South Kolan in Central
Ms Denise Bond, Executive Officer
of the Macadamia Conservation Trust said since 2018 about 60 new mature
Macadamia jansenii trees have been located, although a quarter of these were
destroyed in the bush fires of 2019.
“We very much welcome the genomic
research on Macadamia jansenii as it will help prioritise future conservation
efforts, although right now the most critical thing is to protect the remaining
wild trees in their original habitat,” Ms Bond said.
She said the remaining three
macadamias species – M. ternifolia, M. tetraphylla and M. integrifola – were
listed on the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s Red List of
Threatened Species in 2020.
“This is a wake-up call to
Australia to take better care of our native macadamia species.”
Professor Henry said all four
macadamia species – tetraphylla, integrifolia, ternifolia and jansenii have now
undergone the same analysis.
“It is fitting this work has been
developed in Queensland using the Macadamia genus – one of Australia’s few
additions to the world’s food crops,” he said
The macadamia genomic work forms
part of a five-year project to develop detailed high quality genome sequencing
for five of Australia’s key horticultural tree crops – avocado, macadamia,
mango, citrus and almond – which account for 80 percent of Australian horticulture
tree crop value.
“The macadamia data we have
generated has been fed through to a range of projects including research on
sustainably intensifying tree crop production and breeding for key commercial
attributes in macadamia production,” Professor Henry said.
This project is funded by Hort
Innovation, the Department of Agriculture and Fisheries Queensland and The
University of Queensland.
Professor Robert Henry, firstname.lastname@example.org, +61 7 3346 2445;
Denise Bond, Macadamia Conservation Trust, Denise.Bond@macadamias.org, +61 (0) 488 432 226; QAAFI Communications, Margaret Puls, email@example.com, +61 (0) 419 578 356.
More information: Valentine Murigneux, Subash Kumar Rai,
Agnelo Furtado, Timothy J C Bruxner, Wei Tian, Ivon Harliwong, Hanmin Wei,
Bicheng Yang, Qianyu Ye, Ellis Anderson, Qing Mao, Radoje Drmanac, Ou Wang,
Brock A Peters, Mengyang Xu, Pei Wu, Bruce Topp, Lachlan J M Coin, Robert J
Henry, Comparison of long-read methods for sequencing and assembly of a plant
genome,GigaScience, Volume 9, Issue 12, December 2020, giaa146,
The Queensland Alliance for Agriculture and Food Innovation
is a research institute at The University of Queensland supported by the
Queensland Government via the Queensland Department of Agriculture and