Antonio Molina, known as Micaelo, observed a few years ago that a branch of his Murcian apricot trees of the passion red variety bloomed before the others. From that anecdote an investigation began that now involves the Max Planck Institute for Plant Improvement in Cologne, Germany, where the young scientist José Antonio Campoy works. «It all started there», relates Campoy: «Antonio marked that branch and waited until the new flowering. And it happened again. The marked branch bloomed again before the rest of the tree.
“With the wisdom that years of agriculture have given him – he continues – Antonio, a scientist by experience, had another excellent idea: he grafted a bud from the early branch onto the passion-red trees located in two different locations. And time again proved him right. The farmer demonstrated in this way that the phenomenon was reproducible in grafted trees and in different places, with which he had found a possible spontaneous mutation with less cold needs to bear fruit. This is a very difficult phenomenon to observe. “We would be much more likely to win the EuroMillion if the DNA of a cell mutates by chance, and also gives rise to a favorable agronomic trait”, Campoy shows.
The foreseeable increase in temperatures, which will prevent many varieties grown in our geography from receiving enough winter cold at the end of the century to thrive, adds value to Molina’s find. “There is a great demand for varieties with low cold needs, which are also usually the first to reach the market, thus obtaining better prices for farmers”, explains the scientist.
The unlikely discovery of Antonio Molina has led to the so-called ‘PrumMut Project’, funded by the Marie Skłodowska-Curie research program and with the aim of “finding the mutation that could explain the early flowering of that branch that Antonio found.” To do this, they need to sequence the genome of Antonio’s apricot tree, which has led them to develop a new method for assembling genomes, dubbed ‘Gamete binning’. Campoy points out that the genome “is something like a dictionary that contains the genetic code of an organism”, and that it has, as in the case of humans, two volumes, 200 million letters each, “one inherited from the mother and another from father ».
Passion red variety
“From the reading of a small portion of the dictionary (genome) – he continues – we have carried out the genetic mapping (something like a treasure map), which allows us to later obtain“ the complete dictionary ”. In this way it has been possible to sequence passion red, “a key variety within the Cebas-CSIC apricot improvement program”, and in the process there has been notable progress in agronomic science. For example, in the possibility of finding natural precocity sources for breeding programs without the need to resort to transgenics.
“We still have a long way to go,” says Campoy. Along this path, he concludes, “we need to continue working, side by side, with farmers like Antonio in the development of knowledge and new techniques that allow us to face the challenges of agriculture.”