Scientists decipher wheat genome code

Scientists decipher wheat genome code
Aug 17, 2018

This development could lead to drought- and frost-tolerant varieties

By Diego Flammini
Staff Writer

A new discovery by global ag researchers could have a profound impact on the wheat industry.

After 13 years, a team of over 2,000 scientists from 20 countries and 73 research institutes have cracked wheat’s DNA sequence code. The collaborative group is called the International Wheat Genome Sequencing Consortium.

The genome contains about 16 billion pairs of DNA, compared to about 3.3 billion found in human DNA.

The team decoded the genome of a bread wheat variety called Chinese Spring.

With wheat’s sequence code in order, researchers can track the parts of grain that cause celiac disease and other allergies. And breeders can begin to develop varieties that are resistant to frost and drought.

“Where you think there’s a gene controlling some aspect of yield or disease resistance and using what used to take years, with this Google map for wheat we can now do it overnight,” Rudi Appels, an Australian professor involved with the research, told ABC News yesterday.

The ripple effects of the breakthrough extend beyond the grain industry.

With the global population estimated to surpass nine billion people by 2050, this wheat development will help ensure there’s enough grain to feed the world.

“It’s a milestone for agriculture as the genome sequencing will speed up the process by which we cultivate wheat varieties with higher yields and nutritional value,” Tian Aimei, a plant breeder China’s Xian University of Arts and Science, told South China Morning Post today. “Everyone in the field is closely following the sequencing project.”

The full research results are published in the journal Science.

The wheat industry is excited about this development and its potential impact.

"It's always exciting to see major milestones like this one achieved in wheat research," Jimme Musick, president of the National Association of Wheat Growers, told in an email today. "With this new knowledge of knowing where genes of interest are located on the genome, breeders can select for genes precisely to resist disease, increase yields and produce a higher quality wheat crop using fewer inputs."

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