The genome of Medicago, a close relative of alfalfa and a long-established model for the study of legume biology, has been sequenced by an international team of scientists, capturing around 94 per cent of its genes.
The research gives new insights into the evolution of the Papilionoid subfamily of legumes, which includes peas, soybean and all legumes grown as crops.
Plants in this family can house and work with bacteria to provide them with nitrogen from the air. The new findings suggest this useful trait can be partly attributed to a genetic event 58 million years ago, when duplicate genes of the whole genome were created.
The duplication of genes allows new mutations and functions to develop, while maintaining the roles of original genes.
"The details of the genome shed new light on Medicago, the plant model that will help unlock the workings of nitrogen fixation we hope within our lifetime," said Professor Giles Oldroyd from the John Innes Centre on Norwich Research Park.