University of Otago biochemists Associate Prof Richard Macknight and assistant research fellow Robyn Lee, pictured with an onion and thale cress plants in a university plant research area. Photo by Craig Baxter.
University of Otago biochemistry researchers Associate Prof
Richard Macknight and Robyn Lee may have just had a
four-year-long close encounter with onions but have shed no
And the two scientists are now understandably happy after
their research - undertaken with Plant and Food Research -
uncovered the previously unknown molecular mechanisms
controlling onion bulb formation, in response to lengthening
''It was a fantastic piece of research. We don't often make
that kind of discovery,'' Prof Macknight said.
Earlier research, conducted in the 1920s, had pointed to a
link between bulb formation in onions and seasonal day
But the exact nature of the mechanism involved had remained
unknown for more than 90 years until the research, led by
He was ''delighted'' with the outcome, and the research was
published yesterday in the online journal Nature
Communications, with a related publication in Theoretical and
Onions were the world's third-largest vegetable crop,
researchers said. And onions are New Zealand's second-largest
vegetable crop - behind potatoes - with 586,000 tonnes
produced each year, generating $62 million in export revenue.
The latest research will help pave the way for breeding
onions which more reliably produce bulbs when required, in
this country. It will also help in the eventual breeding of
onions better tailored to grow in other climatic conditions
abroad, and at different times.
The research showed how new genome technologies could make
possible ''major discoveries'' that would have been difficult
in the past, he said.
It was ''incredible'' what had been achieved by using
multimillion-dollar high-throughput genetic sequencing
equipment, co-ordinated by New Zealand Genomics Ltd (NZGL)
and based at the Otago department.
The study was funded by the Ministry of Business, Innovation