Exploring Echinacea's enigmatic origins

Mar 05, 2010

An Agricultural Research Service (ARS) scientist is helping to sort through the jumbled genetics of Echinacea, the coneflower known for its blossoms--and its potential for treating infections, inflammation, and other human ailments.

Only a few Echinacea species are currently cultivated as botanical remedies, and plant breeders would like to know whether other types also possess commercially useful traits. ARS horticulturist Mark Widrlechner, who works at the ARS North Central Regional Plant Introduction Station (NCRPIS) in Ames, Iowa, is partnering in research to find out how many distinct Echinacea species exist. Previous studies have put the number between four and nine species, depending on classification criteria.

Working with Iowa State University scientists, Widrlechner selected 40 diverse Echinacea populations for DNA analysis from the many populations conserved at the NCRPIS. Most of these Echinacea populations were found to have a remarkable range of .

suggested that when much of North America was covered with glaciers, Echinacea found southern refuges on both sides of the . But when the glaciers receded after thousands of years, the groups came together as they moved northward and began to hybridize, which might have blurred previous genetic distinctions.

The research team also analyzed the same populations for chemical differences in root metabolites. These metabolites, which are often essential for survival and propagation, can vary widely among species and may have benefits for human-health.

Using this approach, researchers were able to identify clear distinctions among all 40 populations. These distinctions were organized into three composite profiles that accounted for almost 95 percent of the metabolite variation among the populations.

Additional analysis of metabolite variation indicated that the populations grouped together in ways that aligned well with earlier Echinacea species assignments that were based on plant morphology. This work suggested that there were nine distinct species, not just four.

Results from this work were published in Planta Medica.

Explore further: Treatments of hot water with calcium found effective for kiwifruit

More information: Read more about this research in the March 2010 issue of Agricultural Research magazine, available online at: www.ars.usda.gov/is/AR/archive/mar10/echinacea0310.htm

Related Stories

Scientists Cryopreserve Pest-Imperiled Ash Trees

Oct 28, 2009

(PhysOrg.com) -- Using cryopreservation methods, Agricultural Research Service (ARS) scientists have devised a procedure for storing frozen budwood from ash trees (Fraxinus) and thawing the delicate buds for ...

New Switchgrass Germplasm Collected in Florida

Nov 26, 2009

(PhysOrg.com) -- Agricultural Research Service (ARS) scientists and cooperators have collected 46 new populations of switchgrass in Florida, adding valuable new accessions to the germplasm collection of this ...

Scientists Find Evidence of Casuarina Hybrids

Sep 14, 2009

(PhysOrg.com) -- Hybrids of the invasive Australian plant species Casuarina exist in Florida, Agricultural Research Service (ARS) scientists and university cooperators have found.

Recommended for you

English foxes safe for now as Cameron backs down

2 hours ago

English foxes won a temporary respite after Prime Minister David Cameron's promise to repeal a ban on hunting them failed to make it into his programme outlined in the Queen's Speech on Wednesday.

Using leeches to measure mammal biodiversity

12 hours ago

In order to get a better grasp on the biodiversity of mammals in Sumatra, University of Delaware graduate student Sarah Weiskopf spent two weeks collecting leeches in Bukit Barisan Selatan National Park and ...

User comments : 0

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.