Endangered CQ macadamia becomes genetic supermodel
A critically endangered macadamia, first found in Central Queensland, has become the ‘supermodel’ researchers say is the future of plant research.
Macadamia Jansenii was first found in the wild in Bulburin National Park, near Miriam Vale, in 1983 by amateur botanist Ray Jansen, and named as a new species in 1991.
Since its discovery, Gladstone’s Tondoon Botanic Gardens has been home to numerous Macadamia Jansenii, which have bolstered the global population of the rare species.
Now Hort Innovation’s Tree Genomics project, and the University of Queensland’s Genome Innovation Hub have propelled the rarest of the four Macadamia species to become the world’s most sophisticated plant research model.
Queensland Alliance for Agriculture and Food Innovation Professor of Innovation, Robert Henry said Macadamia Jansenii has become the model for assembling all future plant genomes.
He said the Bulburin National Park location of the wild plants was special.
“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 genetic bottleneck.”
Professor Henry said 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 efficiency.”
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.
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 per cent 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.
Macadamia Conservation Trust Executive Officer Denise Bond 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.
“This is a wake-up call to Australia to take better care of our native macadamia species.”