A man walking through a wheat field. © 123RF
A man walking through a wheat field. © 123RF

Wheat genome mapped to boost yields

1 February 2016

A genome assembly of bread wheat has been produced that should enable researchers to understand how to improve the yields of wheat crops.

Researchers used software to separate the chromosomes in the Chinese Spring variety of wheat, order them in sequence and then put them back together to create the whole genome assembly of the crop.

The resulting data is expected to speed up the delivery of a high quality reference sequence of the bread wheat genome, which will inform research to help wheat breeders develop improved varieties of the crop.

The International Wheat Genome Sequencing Consortium (IWGSC) –  a group of wheat growers, scientists and breeders aiming to improve wheat crops – co-ordinated the public-private consortium of eight universities, genomic big data software companies and not-for-profit research organisations that undertook the research.

Wheat is the staple food for more than 35% of the global human population, according to the IWGSC, and it accounts for 20% of all calories consumed globally. With the world’s population projected to grow to from 7bn to 9.6bn by 2050, wheat production needs to increase by 1.6% every year, it says.

“Since availability of new land is limited, to preserve biodiversity, and water and nutrient resources are becoming scarcer, the majority of this increase has to be achieved via crop and trait improvement on land currently cultivated,” said the IWGSC.

Co-leader of the research, Curtis Pozniak, professor of the Ministry of Agriculture Strategic Research Program at the University of Saskatchewan’s Crop Development Centre in Canada, said the sequence makes an important contribution to understanding the genetic blueprint of one of the world’s most important crops.

“It will provide wheat researchers with an exciting new resource to identify the most influential genes important to wheat adaptation, stress response, pest resistance, and improved yield,” he added.

IWGSC’s executive director Kellye Eversole said the preliminary results were impressive. “We have been waiting for a number of years to have a high quality whole genome sequence assembly that would complement our chromosome-based strategy and accelerate the delivery of the sequence.

"Thus, this assembly comes exactly at the right time because it can be integrated with the IWGSC chromosome specific resources developed over the past 10 years to deliver a high quality reference sequence for the wheat genome in less than two years.”

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