Lavender Genome Sequence May Reveal What Makes Fragrance So Special

Even the mention of lavender evokes the distinct fragrance of the flower. This beautiful flower has been used to make perfumes and essential oils since time immemorial. The aesthetics of the flower have captured the imagination of thousands, worldwide. So, what makes this flower so special? What are the "magical" compounds that give it its unique fragrance? What is the genetic basis of these compounds? These questions have long puzzled scientists. To find out the answers, a group of scientists from China have sequenced the genome of lavender, which is known in the scientific world as Lavandula angustifolia. The research team, headed by Dr. Lei Shi, Professor at the Key Laboratory of Plant Resources and Beijing Botanical Garden, Institute of Botany, Chinese Academy of Sciences, was specifically interested in the genetics and diversity of a class of volatile terpenoids produced by lavender. Terpenoids play important roles in the biology of fragrant flowers including lavender. In the environment, terpenoids have been shown to attract potential insect pollinators. In real-life applications, terpenoids lend their potential benefits, including stress relief and skin conditioning, through products like essential oils. Keeping these in mind, it is essential to understand the fundamentals of terpenoid biosynthesis at the genetic level to manipulate lavender to produce better quality of these compounds. The team began by analyzing the high-quality reference genome data of the Chinese variety of lavender 'Jingxun 2.’ Through phylogenetic analysis, they identified genomic events through the evolutionary history of lavender that led to the expansion of terpenoid biosynthetic genes in this species. Their analysis also yielded important insights into changes in these genes with respect to changes in the environment under which they grew.

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