BENGALURU: City-based scientists, in collaboration with scientists from a central institute, have sequenced the genome of holy basil (tulsi) plant.
Gopalakrishnan Ramaswamy, Chellappa Gopalakrishnan, Sriram Parmeshwaran — scientists working in Genotypic, a city-based company — along with Shubhra Rastogi, Alok Kalra, Vikrant Gupta, Ajit Kumar Shasany and others — scientists from Central Institute of Medicinal and Aromatic Plants, Lucknow — have published a paper in BMC Genomics on their studies on tulsi.
Tulsi is not just regarded holy in India, but it is well known for its medicinal qualities too. Earlier literature such as the Pharmacogen Review 2010 says that tulsi has anti-fungal, anti-diabetic, anti-microbial, cardio-protective, analgesic, anti-spasmodic and adaptogenic properties.
Dr Shasany says, “This is the initial draft genome. We could link major pathways such as those producing phenylpropanoids and some turpenes to their genes. These molecules were known and could be linked. We have not yet explored other genes and their role in the production of flavenoids. These are the backbone substances which are then modulated in the plant. In the future, we are more likely to know more about the role of genes in other pathways.”
The paper says, “The genome sequence and annotation of ocimum sanctum (holy basil) provides new insights into the function of genes and the medicinal nature of the metabolites synthesised in this plant. This information is highly beneficial for mining biosynthetic pathways for important metabolites in related species.”
Shasany says the project aims to decipher traditional uses of tulsi through molecular pathways. Properties of tulsi are known but individual molecules responsible for those properties have not yet been identified. “If we know the genes, we can predict the pathway. It is difficult to predict molecules,” the scientist says.
Ramaswamy of Genotypic told Express, “Tulsi is traditionally important for India. Most ayurvedic products have tulsi as an ingredient. If we have the genome information, we can identify genes and pathways that can produce the molecule. We are collaborating with Shasany and others in sequencing DNA and analysing data.”
Sriram from Genotypic says,”The genome information is like having textbook information. It can be used for various purposes.”
‘An Elixir of life’
Ocimum sanctum L. (O. tenuiflorum) family-Lamiaceae is an important component of Indian and world traditional medicine and culture. Mentioned in the ancient texts of Ayurveda as an ‘elixir of life’ (life saving) herb and worshipped for over 3,000 years due to its healing properties, tulsi is popular in India. Although used during various ailments, about 80 per cent of the patents on this plant are on its extracts or the plant parts, and mainly focussed on essential oil components and not on its individual molecules.