Posted by: Footler PJ12 JUN 2013
The sacred lotus (Nelumbo nucifera) is an aquatic plant that has featured in folklore, religion and the arts from ancient times as a symbol of eternity, plenty and good fortune. It is not commonly used in western medicine but evidence exists to support some of its many traditional uses such as treating diarrhoea, fungal infections, fevers, rheumatoid arthritis, gonorrhoea, syphilis and some forms of diabetes.
Sacred lotus seeds have been shown to remain viable for 1,300 years. Preliminary studies suggested that ancient seeds contain an enzyme, L-isoaspartyl methyltransferase, that may play a role in anti-ageing through the repair of proteins. If confirmed, this would support the long-held traditional belief among many cultures of the plant as the symbol of fertility and rebirth.
Recently, scientists from the US, China, Australia and Japan announced that they have sequenced and annotated the genome of the sacred lotus. As the plant appears to be able to repair genetic defects, the next step is to see which of its genes are involved in the mechanism.
The researchers also found that the sacred lotus experienced a separate, whole-genome duplication about 65 million years ago. It has a slow mutation rate relative to other plants and, since about 40 per cent of the duplicated genes have been retained, it should be possible to investigate those kept for specific pathways and those adapted for new functions. For example, one family of genes potentially involved in the metabolism of metals may be of particular importance. The sacred lotus has 16 of these genes, whereas most plants have only one or two.
The sacred lotus could also prove to be an ideal reference plant for the study of eudicots since, when compared with known gene sequences of other plants, the sacred lotus bears the closest resemblance to the ancestor of that broad category of important plants, which includes many of our staple foods.