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Sweet Basil

The key common, tasty ingredient in Pesto, Marinara sauce, Caprese salad, is basil.

Prof. Nativ Dudai, a world-known basil researcher and breeder and head of the unit of Medicinal and Aromatic Plants at Newe-Ya’ar Research Center of the Agricultural Research Organization (Israel), sought to sequence the genome of sweet basil to create advanced genetic tools that will accelerate various breeding efforts. He joined forces with genomic big data company NRGene to create the world’s first complete genome of sweet Basil (Ocimum basilicum L.), using the “Perrie” variety, the main type grown in Israel for fresh-cut, year-round production.

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The results revealed quite a number of previously unknown facts about basil. “The ploidy level (number of complete sets of chromosomes in a cell) of sweet basil was not clear,” said Prof. Dudai. “Now we have ascertained that it is actually a tetraploid organism (having more than two paired sets of chromosomes).”

“The genome size found was significantly larger than some other basil species,” Prof. Dudai said, explaining that “Ocimum basilicum is more than 2GB in genome size, while the Holy basil (Ocimum sanctum L.) genome is only one third this size.”

“Now, we will be able to employ the information in our breeding programs effectively and precisely to deliver improved products to farmers and consumers,” he said.

Basil, one of the world’s most important culinary spices, is grown in almost every region around the globe. It’s generally used as a fresh or dried herb and for essential oil production.

NRGene’s popular platform, DeNovoMAGICTM3.0, a unique assembly engine that completes even the most challenging assembly within days of obtaining the raw sequence data, delivered the complete basil genome within a few weeks of receiving the raw data.

The results provide for the first time the basic infrastructure for improving the productivity of this important herb, using genetic research, trait discovery, association studies, genomic selection, and genome editing.

“Usually, our genomic projects are aiming to impact the volume of the world food supply,” says Dr. Gil Ronen, CEO of NRGene. “Of course, we’re not adverse to providing ways to make our food both tastier and more nutritious,” he said, stressing that “better fresh leaf varieties will enrich our food with key vitamins, minerals, fibers, and antioxidants.”

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