Exploring the Evolution of Lingonberry Through Genetic Mapping

Greg Howard
9th March, 2024

Exploring the Evolution of Lingonberry Through Genetic Mapping

Image Source: Natural Science News, 2024

Key Findings

  • Researchers sequenced the genomes of two lingonberry subspecies, revealing their genetic blueprint
  • The study found lingonberries are genetically closer to bilberries and blueberries than to cranberries
  • Genomic data suggest lingonberries' population has declined over the past 1-3 million years
Lingonberries, small red fruits known for their tart and nutty flavor, are more than just a traditional staple in the diets of indigenous communities across the circumpolar region. They hold potential as a burgeoning food source, yet despite their promise, there's a notable gap in our genetic understanding of these berries. Researchers at the University of Victoria have taken a significant step toward bridging this gap by sequencing and assembling the genomes of two subspecies of lingonberry, V. vitis-idaea ssp. minus and ssp. vitis-idaea var. 'Red Candy'[1]. The study provided two contig-level assemblies, which are essentially large, contiguous blocks of a genome that have been sequenced without gaps. They used the bilberry genome as a scaffold, which means they arranged the lingonberry sequences in the correct order and orientation based on their similarity to the bilberry's known genome. The resulting reference genomes for each subspecies were substantial in size and remarkably complete, with contig N50 sizes (a measure of assembly quality) of 1.17 Mb and 1.40 Mb, and with over 96% of the expected gene content present. In addition to assembling the genomes, the researchers identified over 25,000 genes in each subspecies and found that a significant portion of the genomes consisted of repeats—sequences that occur in multiple copies. These repeats can play a role in the evolution and adaptation of a species. Phylogenetic analysis, which is the study of evolutionary relationships, confirmed that lingonberries are more closely related to bilberries and blueberries than to cranberries. This finding ties in with previous genomic work on the Vaccinium genus, which includes blueberries and cranberries, providing a clearer picture of the relationships within this group of plants[2]. The study also suggested that lingonberries have faced a decline in population size over the past one to three million years, likely due to repeated glacial cycles causing habitat fragmentation. The genomic resources developed in this research are a valuable tool for a variety of applications. For instance, they can help in identifying genes responsible for desirable traits, such as anthocyanin production. Anthocyanins are the pigments that give many fruits, including lingonberries, their vibrant red, purple, or blue hues. They are also of interest for their antioxidant properties and potential health benefits. The study's findings regarding anthocyanin-producing genes could be linked to previous research on the biosynthesis of these compounds in plants[3]. Understanding the genetics behind anthocyanin production could lead to the development of lingonberry varieties with enhanced nutritional qualities or more vibrant colors. Furthermore, the study's comprehensive genomic data can facilitate the development of molecular markers, which are short DNA sequences associated with particular traits. These markers can be used to track and select for these traits in breeding programs, potentially speeding up the development of new cultivars with improved fruit qualities, such as higher anthocyanin content[4]. The research also contributes to our understanding of chromosome recombination in polyploidy species like blueberries. Polyploidy refers to the condition of having more than two complete sets of chromosomes, which is common in plants and can complicate genetic studies. The new lingonberry genomes can be compared to those of tetraploid blueberries to gain insights into their genetic behavior and inheritance patterns[5]. In conclusion, the University of Victoria's study on lingonberry genomes has provided a wealth of genomic information that not only enriches our understanding of the Vaccinium genus but also offers practical tools for the agricultural industry. By advancing our knowledge of these berries at the genetic level, researchers and breeders are better equipped to enhance lingonberry cultivation and harness the full potential of this promising crop.

GeneticsPlant ScienceEvolution


Main Study

1) Unveiling the evolutionary history of lingonberry (Vaccinium vitis-idaea L.) through genome sequencing and assembly of European and North American subspecies.

Published 6th March, 2024


Related Studies

2) Chloroplast genome assemblies and comparative analyses of commercially important Vaccinium berry crops.


3) The catalytic role of glutathione transferases in heterologous anthocyanin biosynthesis.


4) High-density linkage map construction in an autotetraploid blueberry population and detection of quantitative trait loci for anthocyanin content.


5) Autopolyploid inheritance and a heterozygous reciprocal translocation shape chromosome genetic behavior in tetraploid blueberry (Vaccinium corymbosum).


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