An international team of researchers led by UNH¬†has sequenced the shea
tree‚??s genome, providing a valuable resource for the strategic
development of the species and contributing to its preservation.
The shea tree is a vital social and economic crop, and it is at risk.
The tree is best known for the popular product shea butter‚??a
multimillion-dollar ingredient used in cosmetics, personal care
products, pharmaceuticals and chocolate. For hundreds of thousands of
African families living in the ‚??shea belt‚?Ě it is also a crucial source
of nutrition and income. But despite increasing demand for shea butter,
the slow-growing shea tree is being threatened by other cash crops, and
its preservation most likely lies in its genetic improvement.
‚??A shea tree can take 25 years or more to come into production so it can
be very costly for a farmer to wait that long and wonder if a tree is
worth keeping,‚?Ě said Iago Hale, associate professor of specialty crop
improvement. ‚??With such a long growing period, traditional breeding
strategies simply aren‚??t viable, which is one reason there aren‚??t any
high-performing shea varieties. The shea genome will enable researchers
to gauge the potential of a seedling as soon as it germinates and
through genome-enabled tree selection, we can start moving the needle on
this difficult species.‚?Ě