Aglobal research consortium has put forth the complete and annotated genome for bread wheat, published in a report today (August 17) in Science. Other studies using this reference wheat genome also appeared today in Science and Science Advances.
“Having breeders take the information we’ve provided to develop varieties that are more adapted to local areas is really, we think, the foundation of feeding our population in the future,” coauthor Kellye Eversole, the executive director of the International Wheat Genome Sequencing Consortium, tells WIRED.
The wheat genome has been notoriously difficult to decipher in comparison to other grains such as rice, soybean, and corn, which were all sequenced previously. While the human genome has 3 billion DNA base pairs, wheat has 16 billion. Moreover, wheat presents a complex problem as bread wheat actually comprises three different sets of genes. In order to decode the genome of the world’s most widely grown grain, researchers from 20 countries formed the International Wheat Genome Sequencing Consortium in 2005. The partial genome was published before, but this is the first time the full genome (all 21 chromosomes) of the Chinese Spring bread wheat variety has been sequenced and more than 107,000 genes mapped.
Different research groups have already used the annotated genome to gain a better understanding of wheat genes important for agricultural applications. Eversole tells Science that more than 100 papers have been published with the help of early access to the wheat genome.
In one of the studies published today, scientists used the genome to examine gene-expression patterns in various parts of the wheat plant and at different times in its life cycle. Further, they determined which genes are active in times of stress. “We can see which of the copies are most useful to target,” coauthor Philippa Borrill of the John Innes Centre in the UK tells Science. Breeding hardier wheat varieties by boosting such genes might help farmers bump up crop yields even in times of drought or other stresses,
In another study, researchers identified 356 genes that produce proteins responsible for wheat allergies and sensitivity. “Until now, we couldn’t determine the genes that encoded those proteins,” Odd-Arne Olsen of the Norwegian University of Life Sciences, tells The Atlantic.