Putative phytological pugilism (probably…) [or, One species – two genomes?]

Image: Muhammad Irshad Ansari/Wikimedia Commons.

Image: Muhammad Irshad Ansari/Wikimedia Commons.

In the gen­teel world of bot­any, one may be sur­prised to dis­cover that – occa­sion­ally! – dis­agree­ments can arise, and that tem­pers can get just a little heated. Well, in an attempt to expose the darker side to the oth­er­wise seem­ingly tran­quil and sweetness-and-light domain of plant bio­logy – and incid­ent­ally to show what the ‘-phyte’ suf­fix really means! – I offer the fol­low­ing cau­tion­ary tale. When a spe­cies’ gen­ome – draft or oth­er­wise – is pub­lished, you assume that to be defin­it­ive. But in the case of pigeon pea (Cajanus cajan – ‘an orphan legume crop of resource-poor farm­ers’) it seems that this may not be the case.

I was inter­ested to note that a draft of the pigeon pea gen­ome had been pub­lished by Rajeev Varshney and co-workers (Nature Biotechnology). And read­ing that the report ‘presents the gen­ome of the first orphan legume crop and the second food legume (after soy­bean)’, I was happy to leave it at that. However, not­ing that C. cajan ‘plays a sub­stan­tial role in the live­li­hood of resource-poor small­holder farm­ers in mar­ginal envir­on­ments’, I was keen to find out more about this crop plant and duly con­sul­ted the oracle – aka Wikipedia (I can anticipate/sense your com­munal shud­der as I write/you read those words, but I’m allowed to do this – see ‘Embrace Wikipedia!(?)’). Well, I cer­tainly found more than I was expect­ing, includ­ing this gem, ‘The first draft of pigeon pea gen­ome sequence was done by a group of 31 Indian sci­ent­ists from the Indian Council of Agricultural Research under the lead­er­ship of Nagendra Kumar Singh. The paper is pub­lished in one of the Indian journal’ [sic]. I don’t know who con­trib­uted to the Wikipedia entry, but I tracked down the art­icle referred to – by Nagendra K. Singh et al. (Journal of Plant Biochemistry and Biotechnology), and entitled, ‘The first draft of the pigeon­pea gen­ome sequence’. Interestingly, both papers sequenced pigeon pea vari­ety ‘Asha’, but Singh et al.’s was received by the journal on 2nd July 2011, whereas Varshney et al.’s wasn’t received until… 19th July 2011. (Interestingly, Singh et al.’s paper wasn’t cited by Varshney et al. – but you wouldn’t neces­sar­ily expect it to be since both manu­scripts were received within a few days of each other…). But, as Varshney et al. opine, ‘This ref­er­ence gen­ome sequence will facil­it­ate the iden­ti­fic­a­tion of the genetic basis of agro­nom­ic­ally import­ant traits, and accel­er­ate the devel­op­ment of improved pigeon­pea vari­et­ies that could improve food secur­ity in many devel­op­ing coun­tries’. So, whatever the ins-and-outs or rights-and-wrongs of this incid­ent – and we must surely recog­nise that this has ‘put the cat amongst the “pigeons”’ – isn’t it good that we have such a great gen­omic resource for this crop plant (that I sus­pect many of us had prob­ably not heard much about before)? Surely, we can all agree on that?

Well, maybe not. Ultimately, and regard­less of who achieved this feat first, how close are the two pub­lished gen­omes? Are they the same? If not, is one more ‘cor­rect’ than the other? Which one should be used to do fur­ther work with this import­ant legume, known as ‘the poor man’s meat’?

[Should you desire to read more about this ‘Controversy over pigeon­pea gen­ome’, visit http://​agrari​an​crisis​.in/​2​0​1​1​/​1​1​/​0​9​/​c​o​n​t​r​o​v​e​r​s​y​-​o​v​e​r​-​p​i​g​e​o​n​p​e​a​-​g​e​n​o​me/ or http://​www​.james​andthegi​ant​corn​.com/​2​0​1​1​/​1​1​/​2​6​/​b​a​d​-​b​l​o​o​d​-​o​n​-​p​i​g​e​o​n​p​ea/ – Ed.]

Nigel Chaffey. ORCID 0000-0002-4231-9082

Nigel is a botanist and full-time academic at Bath Spa University (Bath, near Bristol, UK). As News Editor for the Annals of Botany he contributes the monthly Plant Cuttings column to that august international botanical organ. His main goal is to inform (hopefully, in an educational, and entertaining way...) about plants and plant-people interactions.

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