Symposium on Sunflower and Climate Change

The International Symposium on Sunflower and Climate Change was organized in the frame of the SUNRISE project, by INRA Toulouse (Institut National de Recherche en Agronomie) and the French technical c...

In brief

In an unprecedented effort - 8 years project, investment of €21m, 16 partners including 9 public laboratories with a specific investment of INRA, 6 companies involved in sunflower breeding and the ...

The Project

In a context of climate changes and of world increasing demand for oilseed production, it is crucial to improve resistance to drought and yields of sunflower crops in such conditions. To improve ge...

Sunflower genome

INRA1 scientists have just completed the sunflower reference genome sequence. This achievement comes as part of the SUNRISE project in collaboration with the International sunflower genome consortium2. This major advancement will help improve varietal sunflower breeding programs, a very promising area of research which has proven to be an environmental asset for future agricultural systems. It will provide farmers with new varieties that are better adapted to production methods, food production and industrial uses, while also responding to the sector's economic challenges.

  • scientific publication : 2017 The sunflower genome provides insights into oil metabolism, flowering and Asterid evolution. Badouin, H., Gouzy, J., Grassa, C.J., Murat, F., Staton, S.E., Cottret, L., Lelandais-Brière, C., Owens, G., Carrère, S., Mayjonade, B., Legrand, L., Gill, N., Kane, N.C., Bowers, J.E., Hubner, S., Bellec, A., Bérard, A., Bergès, H., Blanchet, N., Boniface, M.-C., Brunel, D., Catrice, O., Chaidir, N., Claudel, C., Donnadieu, C., Faraut, T., Fievet, G., Helmstetter, N., King, M., Knapp, S.J., Lai, Z., Le Paslier, M.-C., Lippi, Y., Lorenzon, L., Jennifer Mandel, Marage, G., Marchand, G., Marquand, E., Bret-Mestries, E., Morien, E., Nambeesan, S., Nguyen, T., Pégot-Espagnet, P., Pouilly, N., Raftis, F., Sallet, E., Schiex, T., Thomas, J., Vandecasteele, C., Varès, D., Vear, F., Vautrin, S., Crespi, M., Mangin, B., Burke, J.M., Salse, J., Muños, S., Vincourt, P., Rieseberg, L.H., Langlade, NB. Nature in press. doi:10.1038/nature22380 (link)

A global breakthrough.

INRA1 scientists sequenced the genome of the sunflower line XRQ, a parent strain grown and developed by INRA. For the first time, the sunflower's DNA has been completely decoded. In other words, all of its genetic material (or its genome) has been analyzed, assembled and mapped. The sunflower genome sequence has been made available to SUNRISE partners for their breeding programs, and will be shared with the academic community during its public debut at the “days exchanges on sunflower” conference on June 28 and 29, 2016 in Toulouse (France).

The result of an innovative strategy.

The biggest challenge in reaching this achievement was assembling the genes, like the pieces of a puzzle, in the correct order. The giant puzzle that forms the sunflower genome is 20% larger than the human genome, and the more pieces there are, the more difficult it is to put them together. Over 80% of the sunflower's genome is composed of nearly identical pieces, which are difficult for computer programs to identify. Thanks to an innovative strategy using the latest generation sequencer PacBio RS II3, scientists were able to obtain a quality reference sequence. In fact, the PacBio RS II sequencer is able to read DNA fragments 100 times longer than could previous generation sequencers. The fragments are then easier to assemble in the correct order. This latest technology is now used for sequencing genomes for other cultivated or parasitic plants, for example the Orobanche cumana, which is a parasitic plant to the sunflower.

A valuable resource for improving sunflower varietal breeding.

The sunflower is a large-scale crop, of which 80% is produced in Europe, and it holds great potential for genetic advancement. The mapping of the sunflower genome opens up new opportunities for identifying genes of agronomic interest, or those with prospects in industry or food production. This contribution enhances the effectivenes of national and international sunflower breeding programs and will help introduce plant varieties on the market that are better adapted to the different agricultural practices. More specifically, the SUNRISE project will benefit from the decoded genome in order to identify genes associated with drought tolerance in response to a changing climate.


[1] Research team includes scientists from INRA Toulouse Midi-Pyrénées, from the Laboratory of Plant-Microbe Interactions (LIPM, INRA-CNRS), from the French Plant Genomic Resources Center (CNRGV, INRA) and from the INRA GeT-PlaGe genome platform.

[2] This consortium is led by the University of British Columbia in Canada and by INRA.

[3] Run by several research teams from INRA Toulouse Midi-Pyrénées 1 for the SUNRISE project, supported by the Languedoc-Roussillon-Midi-Pyrénées Region and by industrial partners Sofiprotéol and Libragen, the GeT-PlaGe genome platform of the Toulouse Genopole acquired the PacBio RS II sequencer in 2015.