Seeds from Bixa orellana, commonly known as “achiote” and “annatto” produce bixin and norbixin apocarotenoids which impart bright red and orange colors that have been used for thousands of years for food, medicine and body painting by indigenous Americans, and by Europeans for ~ 500 years as food coloring, especially for cheeses. Use of Bixa colorants continues to grow as synthetic dyes come under increased scrutiny for toxicity to human and environmental systems. There is a wide range of color variation in pods of Bixa orellana for which genetic loci that delineate phenotypes have not yet been identified. Whole chloroplast genomes and raw genome skims provide a wide variety of genetic markers that can be used for identification purposes as well as phylogenetic inference of broad scale evolutionary relationships. Here we apply whole chloroplast genome sequencing of “red” and “yellow” individuals of Bixa orellana for phylogenetic analyses to explore the position of Bixaceae relative to other families within the Malvales as well as to underpin future work that may delineate diverse color phenotypes.
Fully assembled chloroplast genomes were produced for both red and yellow Bixa orellana accessions (158,918 and 158,823 bp respectively). Synteny and gene content was identical to the only other previously reported full chloroplast genome of Bixa orellana (NC_041550). We observed a 17 base pair deletion at position 58399-58415 in both of our accessions, relative to NC_041550 and a 6 base pair deletion at position 75531-75526 in the accession of “red” Bixa. A phylogeny based on alignment free kmer distance metrics was used to confirm monophylly of Bixa accessions, and to place Bixaceae relative to other families within the Malvales.
Our data support Bixaceae as sister to Malvaceae and identified several potentially diagnostic insertion-deletion mutations that may with future work, reliably distinguish between red and yellow phenotypes. In addition to utility for phylogenic questions and development of identity markers, we demonstrate that chloroplast genomes can be used in conjunction with modern bioinformatic search tools (kmer based) to provide rapid and precise identification of Bixa orellana for Next Generation Sequencing approaches to natural product authentication.