23 Aug 2016
  • Research Result

Gene sequencing reveals what makes quinoa a superfood

Kyoto University team maps the ancient grain’s genome

Considered to be a “superfood” due to its high nutritional content and ability to grow in a variety of environments, quinoa is rich in essential amino acids, dietary fiber, vitamins and minerals, and can tolerate stressful conditions such as drought, poor and highly saline soil, and high altitude. The year 2013 was even proclaimed to be the International Year of Quinoa to recognize the plant’s value in achieving food security and eradicating malnutrition around the globe.

So what gives this grain such superb qualities? A look into its genes using DNA and RNA sequencing has resulted in a draft genome, as recently announced by a team of Kyoto University researchers and collaborators. This raw library of base genes is expected to reveal useful insights into quinoa’s properties.

To create the genome, the scientists first cultivated an inbred and standard quinoa variety from seeds, which had been propagated for over 20 years, reducing the genetic variability that hinders analysis. This boosted phenotypic uniformity, greatly aiding molecular analysis. The team then obtained a large amount of quinoa DNA, and even identified some genes which may explain the plant’s adaptability to harsh conditions.

“Analyses revealed that gene clusters involved in Abscisic Acid (ABA) signaling were substantially expanded in the quinoa genome compared with other plant species in its family,” explain the authors in their paper published in DNA Research. ABA is a plant hormone that is known to regulate abiotic stress tolerance.

This type of research demonstrates how the identification of agriculturally important genes can potentially impact our agricultural techniques and food production. (by Louie Intalan)

Yasuo Yasui and colleagues sequenced the genome of the Kyoto-d quinoa line (above)
Credit:Japan International Research Center for Agricultural Sciences

Paper Information


Yasuo Yasui, Hideki Hirakawa, Tetsuo Oikawa, Masami Toyoshima, Chiaki Matsuzaki, Mariko Ueno, 
Nobuyuki Mizuno, Yukari Nagatoshi, Tomohiro Imamura, Manami Miyago, Kojiro Tanaka, Kazuyuki Mise, Tsutomu Tanaka, Hiroharu Mizukoshi, Masashi Mori, & Yasunari Fujita. (2016). Draft genome sequence of an inbred line of Chenopodium quinoa, an allotetraploid crop with great environmental adaptability and outstanding nutritional properties. DNA Research, 0(0), 1–12.