- Saskatoon, Saskatchewan
Jackfruit, the superhero of fruits
How much do you know about jackfruit? This fruit grows naturally in Southeast Asia, India and Africa and is the largest tree fruit in the world. The fruits can grow as long as 1 metre in length and up to a half metre in width, with a mature jackfruit tree producing up to 200 fruits a year. Packed with dietary fibre, vitamins, minerals, protein and antioxidants, this versatile fruit, popularly known as Kanthal in Bangladesh, can be consumed raw as a fruit, cooked with other vegetables or used in sweet desserts and savoury recipes. The seeds can also be eaten, and even used in skin care! The jackfruit offers other benefits, too. For example, the wood from the jackfruit tree has termite- and fungus-resistant properties, which makes it highly prized for manufacturing wood products, and its leaves can be fed to livestock. With all of its natural properties, it's not surprising that Bangladesh, the second largest jackfruit producer, chose the jackfruit as its national fruit!
All great superheroes have a weakness
The jackfruit tree has a lot to offer, and all of its components are valuable. However, it has a very short harvest season, only 3 months. Furthermore, the fruits are particularly vulnerable to stresses such as pests, floods, drought and other weather events, which leads to variations in the quality of the fruit. This means the full potential of the jackfruit as a food source to help address food insecurity or for commercial cultivation has yet to be unlocked. And with growing local and international demand for this produce, momentum is building to find solutions.
And many great superheroes have sidekicks
The National Research Council of Canada's (NRC) Aquatic and Crop Resource Development Research Centre experts took part in a project to decode the genome of the jackfruit which could be used as the basic resource for future trait improvement using NRC's extensive expertise in plant tissue culture, cell technologies as well as gene editing. To do this, they worked alongside researchers from the Institute of Biotechnology and Genetic Engineering, Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman Agricultural University, the Horticultural Research Center, the Bangladesh Agricultural Research Institute (BARI), the Global Institute for Food Security, the University of Saskatchewan and the University of British Columbia. The expertise of each organization was key in achieving success.
Making a breakthrough!
Together, the researchers worked on genome sequencing to better identify and understand how genes affect the plant's features and how it grows, evolves and reproduces. By manipulating the genes, scientists are able to enhance, limit and even add properties to the organism.
The collaborative research team worked on sequencing the genome of the BARI Kanthal-3, a variety that grows year-round. This work would make it possible to alter the plant's genome in order to obtain of a new variety of jackfruit from the BARI Kanthal-3. This new variety offers year-round harvesting and a higher average yield per plant each year. In addition, this variety isn't affected by infectious pathogens or pests.
This work on BARI Kanthal-3 has the potential to not only improve food security for the ever-increasing population of Bangladesh and other tropical countries but also lead to economic benefits for them through commercial cultivation of the fruit and related processed foods for international markets.
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