PureCircle in stevia plant genome breakthrough

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20 Oct 2017 --- For the first time scientists have completed the sequencing of the stevia plant genome unveiling major breakthroughs in research. Scientists from producer and innovator of stevia sweeteners for the global beverage and food industry, PureCircle, have found a way to map the genetic makeup of the stevia plant, in what they claim is a pioneering move. The mapping will provide an in-depth understanding of how the calorie-free sugar substitute derives its characteristic sweetness. 

PureCircle Stevia Institute worked together with Netherlands-based crop innovation company KeyGene on this key stevia discovery, showing the annotated, high-quality genome sequences of three stevia cultivars. They predict the breakthrough could lead to improved stevia varieties. 

This achievement provides a better understanding of key enzyme groups used by the stevia plant to produce the steviol glycosides giving stevia its characteristic sweet taste. To enable acceleration of the traditional breeding of the stevia plant, researchers identified several million potential new markers in the assembled genomes.

PureCircle's non-GMO agriculture program is strengthened by these cutting-edge findings. The research helps facilitate optimization of the levels of the best-tasting steviol glycosides, including improvements in the levels of the well-known minor glycosides, Reb D and Reb M.

The CropPedia platform 
The data has been integrated into CropPedia, a comprehensive bioinformatics platform developed by KeyGene for visualization and analytics of all available genomic, transcriptomic and metabolomic stevia datasets. 

CropPedia enables chemists, biochemists, geneticists, and agronomists to better understand the steviol glycoside biosynthesis pathways and to rapidly create improved stevia varieties using traditional breeding practices.

Stevia is a plant-based, zero-calorie sweetener which has been approved by all major regulatory authorities globally for use in foods and beverages in over 150 countries.

Optimized stevia ingredients developed as a result of this research will enable deeper reductions in sugar and calorie content of foods and beverages, as well as superior tasting products. 

“PureCircle is committed to strengthening the understanding of the stevia leaf,” says Avetik Markosyan, Vice President, Head of Group Research and Development at PureCircle. “These findings provide strategic enhancements to our breeding and agronomy programs, as well as tremendous utility for scientists, farmers and developers working with stevia as a non-GMO ingredient.”

“Having a single high-quality reference genome is generally considered a major step forward for newly domesticated crops, such as stevia,” adds Arjen van Tunen, CEO of KeyGene. “We have surpassed this benchmark with three independent reference genomes for stevia. This comprehensive understanding of the complexities of the stevia genome will directly translate to high-value, improved stevia varieties.”

“Being an industry leader, agronomic research is an investment PureCircle values highly,” says Faith Son, Vice President, Head of Marketing and Innovation at PureCircle. “This is indeed the stevia leaf's next step towards creating a clearer path to great taste and understanding all of the immense benefits the plant contains for the global food and beverage industry as well as consumers.”

PureCircle Ltd. and The Coca-Cola Company co-funded this research.

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