SINGAPORE – A collaboration between A*STAR’s Genome Institute of Singapore (GIS) and SingHealth Duke-NUS Institute of Biodiversity Medicine (BD-MED) has decoded the entire genetic blueprint of Singapore’s National Flower, Papilionanthe Miss Joaquim, also commonly known as Vanda Miss Joaquim (VMJ). Chemical profiling, informed by the genome analysis, further uncovered natural products such as flavonols and anthocyanins, notable for their antioxidant properties and distinctive colour pattern. The study was published in Communications Biology on 15 September 2022.
VMJ was declared the National Flower of Singapore in 1981, and has since captured the fascination of both locals and tourists. The GIS and BD-MED teams employed various genetic sequencing technologies to assemble the entire VMJ genome for the first time, revealing a total of 19 chromosomes spanning 2.4 billion nucleic acid base pairs with approximately 32,000 genes. These genes influence the production of proteins which impact the orchid’s traits and cellular processes, and demonstrated the presence of natural products in our national flower responsible for its distinctive colour pigmentation, smell, and other natural bioactive compounds.
Knowledge of the VMJ genome enables the team to perform chemical profiling to uncover VMJ’s antioxidant properties and distinctive colour pattern—flavonols and anthocyanins. The orchid was also found to contain vandaterosides, a bioactive compound capable of slowing the skin-ageing process which was previously discovered in Papilionanthe Teres, the seed parent of VMJ.
Prof Teh Bin Tean, Director of SingHealth Duke-NUS BD-MED, and Senior Group Leader of the Laboratory of Biodiversity Genomics at A*STAR’s GIS, said, “We are heartened to be able to construct and decipher the genetic blueprint of our national flower, and hope that this achievement will be a significant contribution to our national heritage. VMJ is an orchid hybrid with magnificent blooms, and it is widely used as a breeding stalk for over 400 various orchid hybrids. Findings on its genomic makeup could help us better understand how to enhance genomic resources and pave the way for future research in gene and metabolite engineering. Deciphering the genetic code of flora species such as the VMJ also allows us to uncover naturally occurring bioactive compounds, which could be used for healthcare purposes and to understand, prevent and fight diseases.”
Prof Patrick Tan, Executive Director of GIS, said, “Singapore’s biodiversity is well represented, with over 4,000 species of native flora which are threatened in the face of global climate irregularities and issues. Thanks to advancing sequencing technology, we are able to conserve the genomes of flora by preserving the genetic code through sequencing. We are tremendously honoured to start our journey studying Singapore’s plant biodiversity with our national flower.”
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About A*STAR’s Genome Institute of Singapore (GIS)
The Genome Institute of Singapore (GIS) is an institute of the Agency for Science, Technology and Research (A*STAR). It has a global vision that seeks to use genomic sciences to achieve extraordinary improvements in human health and public prosperity. Established in 2000 as a centre for genomic discovery, the GIS pursues the integration of technology, genetics and biology towards academic, economic and societal impact, with a mission to "read, reveal and write DNA for a better Singapore and world".
Key research areas at the GIS include Precision Medicine & Population Genomics, Genome Informatics, Spatial & Single Cell Systems, Epigenetic & Epitranscriptomic Regulation, Genome Architecture & Design, and Sequencing Platforms. The genomics infrastructure at the GIS is also utilised to train new scientific talent, to function as a bridge for academic and industrial research, and to explore scientific questions of high impact.
For more information about GIS, please visit www.a-star.edu.sg/gis
About the Agency for Science, Technology and Research (A*STAR)
A*STAR is Singapore's lead public sector R&D agency. Through open innovation, we collaborate with our partners in both the public and private sectors to benefit the economy and society. As a Science and Technology Organisation, A*STAR bridges the gap between academia and industry. Our research creates economic growth and jobs for Singapore, and enhances lives by improving societal outcomes in healthcare, urban living, and sustainability. A*STAR plays a key role in nurturing scientific talent and leaders for the wider research community and industry. A*STAR’s R&D activities span biomedical sciences to physical sciences and engineering, with research entities primarily located in Biopolis and Fusionopolis. For ongoing news, visit www.a-star.edu.sg
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About SingHealth Duke-NUS Academic Medical Centre
The SingHealth Duke-NUS Academic Medical Centre (AMC) draws on the collective strengths of SingHealth and Duke-NUS Medical School to provide our patients and community with the best outcomes and experience.
By leveraging the synergies in clinical care, research and education created through our Academic Clinical Programmes, Disease Centres and Joint Institutes, the SingHealth Duke-NUS AMC fosters the exchange of scientific knowledge and clinical perspectives to accelerate innovation and new discoveries, advance the practice of medicine as well as nurture the next generation of healthcare professionals.
SingHealth delivers comprehensive, multi-disciplinary and integrated care across a network of acute hospitals, national specialty centres, polyclinics and community hospitals. Offering over 40 clinical specialties, SingHealth is Singapore’s largest public healthcare cluster.
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