The International Peanut Genome Initiative—a group of multinational crop geneticists who have been working in tandem for the last several years—has successfully sequenced the peanut’s genome.

Scott Jackson, director of the University of Georgia Center for Applied Genetic Technologies in the College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences, serves as chair of the initiative, or IPGI.

The new peanut genome sequence will be available to researchers and plant breeders across the globe to aid in the breeding of more productive and more resilient peanut varieties.

“The peanut crop is important in the United States, but it’s very important for developing nations as well,” Jackson said. “In many areas, it is a primary calorie source for families and a cash crop for farmers.” 

Globally, farmers tend about 24 million hectares of peanuts each year and produce about 40 million metric tons.

“Improving peanut varieties to be more drought-, insect- and disease-resistant can help farmers in developed nations produce more peanuts with fewer pesticides and other chemicals and help farmers in developing nations feed their families and build more secure livelihoods,” said plant geneticist Rajeev Varshney of the International Crops Research Institute for Semi-Arid Tropics in India, who serves on the IPGI.

While peanuts were successfully bred for intensive cultivation for thousands of years, relatively little was known about the legume’s genetic structure because of its complexity, according to Peggy Ozias-Akins, a plant geneticist on the UGA Tifton campus who also works with the IPGI.

“Until now, we’ve bred peanuts relatively blindly, as compared to other crops,” said IPGI plant geneticist David Bertioli of the Universidade de Brasília. “We’ve had less information to work with than we do with many crops, which have been more thoroughly researched and understood.”

The peanut in fields today is the result of a natural cross between two wild species, Arachis duranensis and Arachis ipaensis, which occurred in north Argentina between 4,000 and 6,000 years ago. Because its ancestors were two different species, today’s peanut is a polyploid, meaning the species can carry two separate genomes, designated A and B subgenomes.