Limonium melitense at Dwejra, Gozo (Photo credit: Maria Galea)
An interdisciplinary research team from
the University of Malta, is amongst the awardees of
The team is headed by
The fund of approximately €50,000 will enable the setting up of a pipeline for de novo genome sequencing and assembly at the UM and the publishing of the genome sequences of two local endemic plants, namely Limonium melitense and L. zeraphae.
The genome is like a biography of a species. It sheds light on the species' history, function and behaviour. The reference genome of a species describes the content and organization of DNA, for a representative member of the species.
Nowadays, we have reference genomes for many species from the tree of life, including humans. However, none of our endemics (to the best of our knowledge) have had their genome studied to this great depth yet. These references are considered as an ultimate resource for multiple applications such as studies in the evolutionary history and phylogeny; identification of variation within the species and between species; decision making in relation to conservation biology; and identification of alleles (forms of genes, involved in the shaping of the characteristics of the organism) for the specific environment the species is adapted to.
The project EDGE sets to build a wet-lab and computational protocol for the sequencing and de novo assembly of genomes.
Plant genome models are especially difficult to assemble together in this way because of their large sizes and complex structure. Henceforth, by means of this grant, the research team is going to assess the performance of these sequencing technologies and the assemblers against well-studied genomes. The combination that gives the most correct, contiguous and complete genomes will be included in the de novo genomics’ pipeline to be established at UM.
The pipeline will be utilised first to generate the genome models of the two endemic Limonium species. These two endemic plants can survive in the harsh environment of the maritime garrigue and can tolerate high salt concentration, high temperatures, high light intensity, and high UV radiation. A reference genome for these endemic plants may help identify the alleles that enable these characteristics which are highly desirable in crop plants in the light of global climate change.
Limonium zeraphae at Qalet Marku, Malta (Photo credit: Maria Galea)
For further information about this research, kindly contact Dr Jean-Paul Ebejer.