The orchid genome sequencing project

Orchidaceae represents a very large and complex flowering plant group with ca. 25.000 species and outstanding diversification in the Andes. Colombia alone is the privileged home of ca. 5,000 species. However, despite the richness of species and their fairly important ecological role in the forest, the country has not developed comprehensive studies in basic biology that allow the sustainable use of orchid species. The cut flower market is dominated by temperate hybrids growth in specialized greenhouses with managed flowering seasons.
 

As part of our project on understanding the genetic basis for flowering time in neotropical
orchids we have begun the sequencing of the first two complete genomes of Colombian Orchids: Cattleya trianae and Epidendrum fimbriatum. These two orchids belong to a list of 34 native species with the potential for sustainable use in our country because of their distribution, ecology, and potential for commercial use. C. trianae (known as the “May flower”) is listed as the Colombian national flower due to the attractiveness and remarkable size of its flowers. It is an epiphytic plant endemic from dry and transition wet-cloudy forests (1000-1800m altitude) from Tolima, Huila and Cundinamarca, and is one of the most threatened species, due to the destruction of their habitat. On the other hand, Epidendrum fimbriatum (known as “white birdie”) is one of the smallest and most common orchids of the Andean forests. It is an epiphyte or terrestrial plant growing along stream banks or on embankments found in humid montane cloud forest from Colombia, Ecuador, Peru, and Bolivia as well as Venezuela (1070-3800m altitude). The small flowers (0.6cm) are profuse and exhibit outstanding color patterns and there are usually blooms throughout the year, ideal to breeding as a miniature orchid.

 

Our long-term goal is to provide comprehensive resources that include gene annotation, gene expression, genetic molecular markers, genetic maps, a resource of comparative genomics, and pathway of genes of interest. The information gathered will help us understand important plant development processes related to the meristem formation, flowering time, floral organ identity and complexity, seed and embryo development, among others. This information will be a comprehensive database for the understanding the evolution of traits related to the adaptation to the plethora of conditions like altitude, temperature, light, precipitation, and relative humidity present in the Andes. It also will facilitate the development of new techniques in biotechnology and genetic engineering. With that will be possible the implementation of breeding and the production of plant varieties which are necessary to increase the efficiency of native orchid breeding, intended to bring more varieties into the trade global market with desired features, reducing the impact on wild populations and contributing in a strong and forceful manner to the conservation of these plants.

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Cattleya trianae

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Epidendrum fimbriatum