Global Institute for Food Security partnership in Bangladesh produces first sequenced genome of year-round jackfruit

The Global Institute for Food Security (GIFS) at the University of Saskatchewan (USask) is proud to announce its partnership with the Bangladesh Agricultural Research Council (BARC) and Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman Agricultural University (BSMRAU) has led to the sequencing of a year-round jackfruit variety genome, making Bangladesh the only southeast Asian country other than China to entirely sequence a genome.

Jackfruit is the national fruit of Bangladesh and is an important source of nutrients for many Bangladeshi people. (Photo: Submitted)

This technological feat is an important outcome of the partnership, which aims to improve sustainable food security in Bangladesh, while strengthening trade ties between the fast-growing country and the province of Saskatchewan.

“Jackfruit is the national fruit of Bangladesh and is an important source of nutrients for many Bangladeshi people, but its growing season is short, and the fruit’s nutritional value has yet to be fully commercialized, so its impact on food security in the country has great potential,” said Dr. Andrew Sharpe (PhD), Bangabandhu Research Chair in Food Security at GIFS.

Bangladesh, one of Saskatchewan’s top 10 trading partners, is the world’s second largest producer of jackfruit, producing 1.1 million tons in 2019-20 alone. However, because the evergreen trees that produce the world’s largest edible single fruit rely on cross-pollination to breed, the quality is inconsistent, making it hard to cultivate and process commercially.

By using advanced technologies to adapt the genome for favorable traits – such as high yield, year-round production, and stress resistance to flooding, saline, drought, and pests – the research team hopes to make large-scale commercialization more likely.

“The growing period for seasonal jackfruit in Bangladesh is short, running from June to August, which, because of limited processing and storage, results in wastage as high as 30 per cent or more,” said Dr. Tofazzal Islam (PhD), lead researcher and founding director of the Institute of Biotechnology and Genetic Engineering (IBGE) at BSMRAU, where the genome of a year-round jackfruit variety was sequenced.

“The sequencing and annotation of a year-round jackfruit whole-genome with a yield potential four times the seasonal variety lays the foundation for the biotechnological improvement and sustainable commercial development of this highly nutritious southeast Asian staple and meat substitute used in vegan and vegetarian cooking.”

Besides achieving a world’s first by decoding the genome of this jackfruit variety, the social, economic, and environmental outcomes that could come alongside the commercialization of jackfruit are significant.

GIFS’ research, training and development partnership with BARC includes programs designed to enhance farmer incomes, address the effects of climate change, and strengthen the country’s delivery of the United Nations’ sustainable development goals, including reducing poverty and empowering women.

“Cultivating and processing this jackfruit variety could become an important source of income for people, especially women, in poor, rural regions of the country, and the increased cultivation would enhance forest cover and provide more efficient land use,” said Islam.

“Jackfruit processing and added value products will ensure maximum benefit to local growers, improving food and nutrition security and helping alleviate rural poverty. As the second largest jackfruit producer in the world, Bangladesh is well positioned to occupy a substantial share in the international market for a variety of jackfruit processed products.”

Alongside providing technological support and know-how – such as GIFS’ advanced bioinformatics, which helped assemble the decoded jackfruit genome – GIFS is working to advance commercialization of successes like the sequencing of the jackfruit variety by helping establish an agricultural technology centre in Bangladesh.

“Through our partnership with BARC and the upcoming inauguration of the ag-tech centre, we aim to enhance crop breeding and plant improvement, advance soil health and quality, improve soil water retention, and deliver innovations for post-harvest food handling and processing – a specific area of concern for jackfruit commercialization but also for the country’s food production as a whole,” said Sharpe.

The year-round jackfruit variety – named BARI Kanthal-3 – was sequenced on an Illumina DNA sequencing platform at IBGE and analyzed by GIFS’ data management and analysis team. This effort included support from the Bangladesh Agricultural Research Institute (BARI), and Canadian researchers at the National Research Council (NRC) and the University of British Columbia (UBC).

The peer-reviewed research was published in Frontiers in Plant Science December 20, 2022.