What makes Amla so rich in antioxidants? Bhopal scientists crack the secret

Amla's antioxidant power comes from adaptive evolution of certain genes, finds study

IISER Bhopal scientists

In a breakthrough research, a team of scientists from the Indian Institute of Science Education and Research (IISER), Bhopal, have carried out first-ever genome sequencing of the medicinal plant Amla or Indian gooseberry- unravelling its genetic composition.

Understanding the genetic composition of Amla aids in understanding its origin, evolution, and how it creates the bio-chemicals that are of medicinal value. 

The team found that Amla's exceptional antioxidant power comes from the adaptive evolution of certain genes involved in the production of antioxidants like ‘Vitamin C’ and ‘Flavonoids’. Adaptive evolution pertains to evolutionary changes in an organism that make it suitable to its habitat, resulting in an increased chance of survival and reproduction.

According to the research team, the adaptive evolution of this plant could be one of the key reasons for Amla’s easy adaptation to various climatic zones and environmental conditions. The scientists have said that the genomic resource will help the breeders develop better cultivars (a particular variety of a plant whose characteristics have been controlled by humans in the way it has been bred) with increased Vitamin C and medicinal properties.

The team led by Vineet Sharma, Associate Professor of Biological Sciences, includes Shruti Mahajan, Manohar Singh Bisht, and Abhisek Chakraborty. The details of this research and the findings were published in the open-access journal, Frontiers in Plant Science, earlier this month.

An IISER note said that Amla is a well known plant indigenous to South Asian countries and has been used in traditional Indian and Chinese medicine and home remedies for centuries. The stone fruit of the Amla tree is believed to have high Vitamin C content, in addition to being a rich source of various phytochemicals, minerals, and amino acids. Amla has been thought to be effective in treating conditions like unhealthy levels of fat, type 2 diabetes, chronic gum diseases, symptomatic knee osteoarthritis, and more. While Amla has always held significant pharmaceutical and nutritional importance, its genetic composition had not yet been studied in detail. 

Explaining the technical approach of the IISER Team, Sharma said, "We analysed the genome and transcriptome of the Amla plant using leaves from our campus. We employed advanced sequencing technologies, including 10x Genomics and Oxford Nanopore Technology (ONT) long-read sequencing, along with transcriptomic sequencing."

Apart from obtaining the draft genome structure of the Amla for the first time, the researchers also identified genes responsible for vitamin C biosynthesis (natural generation) and compared them with genes in other plants that bear vitamin C-rich fruits. 

“Amla's abundant vitamin C content and the remarkable capacity of each tree to yield up to 100 kilos of fruits make it superior to other vitamin C-rich fruits such as the West Indian cherry from Mexico and the Camu Camu fruit found in Brazil, Peru, Colombia, and Venezuela, and makes it a perfect choice for switching from the synthetic to a natural source of Vitamin C,” the IISER note said.

Highlighting the significance of their study, Sharma said, “The analysis of the whole genomic landscape of the Amla also helped us in understanding the fruit’s evolutionary descent in comparison with 26 other plant species. It will also help in developing improved nutraceuticals, food, cosmetics, and pharmaceutical products, and for further horticultural and genomic studies.”

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