A breakthrough in the sequencing of the sunflower genome could help in developing crops that are better able to adapt to climate change.

The sunflower possesses remarkable qualities that allow it to grow and survive in tricky environmental conditions, including drought. With a changing climate, food security issues and a growing global population, it is vital that a range of solutions are found to aid food production.

Professor John Burke, a member of the University of Georgia Plant Centre, and lead author of the research into the sunflower genome, conducted by an international team of scientists, said it was “quite the accomplishment”. For the European and North American team it was like trying to complete a complex jigsaw with pieces that look the same.

“It will greatly facilitate our work to understand the molecular mechanisms underlying key traits related to abiotic stress resistance–things like drought, salinity and low nutrient resistance. This genome sequence will essentially serve as a genetic road map to pinpoint the genes underlying these sorts of traits,” added Burke.

The research was published today in the journal Nature.