Scott Jackson, Ph.D.
The University of Georgia
Scott Jackson is on a quest to make better peanuts. If he can figure out which genes control various traits in the plants, his research could have a profound impact on the Georgia and U.S. economies, and bring food security to poorer nations around the globe.
In 2014, Jackson and his colleagues completed their years-long effort to sequence the peanut genome, determining all the nucleotides within the nucleus of peanut cells. Peanuts have a dual genome, which developed when the modern-day peanut grew as a hybrid of two ancient plant species. Each species contributed its genome to the peanut, making today’s peanut surprisingly complex.
Unraveling the genetic structure, which contains more than 50,000 genes, took the work of a collaborative research group that includes scientists in the United States, China, Brazil, India and other countries. Jackson is the chair of this research group, known as the International Peanut Genome Initiative.
Now that they have sequenced the genome, the researchers will continue their painstaking work to map the genome, pinpointing the specific gene markers for such characteristics as disease resistance and drought tolerance. Their research could someday lead to peanut crops that are hardier and more nutritious.
Stronger, more healthful peanuts would be a boon to the southern United States, where peanuts are an important cash crop. Improving the nuts’ yield and nutrition also would benefit small nations in Asia and Africa, where they are a vital food crop.
Prior to taking on the peanut, Jackson was a lead researcher on the team of scientists that first mapped the soybean genome.
- Genome sequencing and structural characterization. Working with the International Peanut Genomic Research Initiative, Jackson is developing an ordered, anchored, annotated and accessible genome sequence to facilitate peanut improvement. Objectives include: 1) Production of a reference genome sequence for cultivated tetraploid peanut; 2) Comparative structural analyses of A and B-diploid genomes; 3) Annotation of the genome sequence; 4) A ‘breeder-friendly’ database to house and curate the primary and annotated genome sequences; 5) Evaluation of emerging technologies for genome sequencing and characterization.
- Continued research on soybeans, supported by grants worth several million dollars.
- Exploring the epigenomes of crop plants.
- Improving the seed value chain in Uganda, supported by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.
GRA knew Jackson’s work could be valuable to Georgia’s economy. So did those in the agriculture industry: GRA worked with the Georgia Seed Development Commission to fund Jackson’s position as an Eminent Scholar. The Peanut Foundation and M&M/Mars also support Jackson’s research.