7 Nov 2017
In work part-funded by the Coca-Cola Company, the PureCircle Stevia Institute, USA, and agrobiotech innovation company KeyGene, the Netherlands, have sequenced the stevia plant genome, providing a better understanding of key enzyme groups used by the plant to produce steviol glycosides, which produce its characteristic sweet taste.
Rebaudioside A, an extract of the stevia plant (Stevia rebaudiana), has been approved by all major regulatory authorities globally for use in foods and beverages as a plant-based, zero-calorie sweetener – although stevia leaf and crude extracts do not have Food and Drug Administration approval for use in food. The Coca-Cola Company uses it as a sweetener in drinks such as Coca-Cola Life and Vitamin Water. To enable acceleration of the traditional breeding of the stevia plant, researchers identified several million potentially new markers in the assembled genomes.
The data has been integrated into CropPedia, KeyGene’s bioinformatics platform, which visualises and analyses all available genomic, transcriptomic, and metabolomic stevia datasets. This could allow chemists, biochemists, geneticists, and agronomists to better understand the steviol glycoside biosynthesis pathways, and rapidly create improved stevia varieties using traditional breeding practices.
These optimised stevia ingredients could enable greater reductions in sugar and calorie content of foods and beverages, as consumers around the world increasingly try to reduce both sugar and calorie intake.
‘Having a single high-quality reference genome is generally considered a major step forward for newly domesticated crops, such as stevia,’ said Arjen van Tunen, CEO of KeyGene. ‘We have surpassed this benchmark with three independent reference genomes for stevia. This comprehensive understanding of the complexities of the stevia genome will directly translate to high-value, improved stevia varieties.’
Avetik Markosyan, Vice-President, Head of Group Research and Development at PureCircle, said, ‘PureCircle is committed to strengthening the understanding of the stevia leaf. These findings provide strategic enhancements to our breeding and agronomy programs, as well as tremendous utility for scientists, farmers and developers working with stevia as a non-GMO ingredient.’