University of Florida plant evolutionary geneticist Doug Soltis explains the DNA/RNA extraction process from mint plants. Analyzing this data allows his research team to create a more detailed mint family tree. Obtaining a better understanding of the genetic underpinning of the chemistry of mints through this research will help increase mint yield or even help create new mint compounds/flavors for the agricultural industry to use in future consumer products.
Interview and videos produced by Sean Carey for Explore Research at the University of Florida.
Doug Soltis: Well you can find mint products in your everyday life right in your grocery store. Think of the many products that we have that are right there. We have sage, rosemary, thyme, peppermint, spearmint, all of these things are easily available either at your a grocery store if you want to use them as already prepared products, or many of them are also sold as plants where you can buy them at a nursery.
So here at the University of Florida we’re trying to better understand how these great scents, these great aromas of mints came to be. How they evolved over the course of time in this group and the chemistry behind that so we can build a better mint. The process of this project starts with us collecting mint samples, really from around the world, living samples that we then culture in the greenhouse and we can use those as a source of material. We can use those materials to obtain DNA.
We sequence that DNA and we can use that to build a family tree of relationships for the mints. We can also use those same leaves to study the structures on the leaves, the hairs, the glands that produce the chemical compounds.
The first step in getting either DNA or RNA is to get the plants from the greenhouse, remove the leaves, and freeze them in liquid nitrogen. After freezing the leaves in liquid nitrogen we then grind them up, we take that slurry and put it in with a solution and that really removes – the DNA is now coming out of the cells.
We can then use other solutions to make it come out of solution and then spin it down with a centrifuge so at the bottom of our little test tube we have DNA. So the finals step in sequencing DNA or RNA is that we send the DNA or RNA we’ve isolated out to a company, they will then sequence it and then they’ll send the data back to us which we will then analyze.
People often underestimate the length of time involved in analysis. It can take weeks, months, sometimes even years to analyze the massive amounts of data we obtain.
So this information can be very important for agriculture because we really don’t have a very good understanding of the genetic underpinning of the chemistry in mints. Once we have that information, once we know better how these chemical compounds are produced and the genes are involved, that can be of great importance to improving yield of these compounds, or producing new combinations of compounds in mints.
So our hope is that we can actually discover new compounds. These may result in new flavors, new combinations of flavors and smells and oils that would be very useful to the consumer and our everyday life.
Learn more about the Molecular Systematics & Evolutionary Genetics Lab at the Florida Museum.
Learn more about the Mint Genome Project.