Key Components of the Genetic Code of Wheat Decoded

First Posted: Nov 30, 2012 03:04 AM EST

The genetic code of one of the world's most important crops has been decoded by a team of scientists. The first analysis of the complex and large bread wheat genome is one of the major breakthroughs in breeding wheat varieties that are more productive and disease resistant.

This study was carried out by a team of scientists including Professor Keith Edwards and Dr Gary Barker from the University of Bristol.

By identifying nearly 96,000 wheat genes and gaining a sound insight into the links between them, a strong base is laid to accelerate wheat improvement through advanced molecular breeding and genetic engineering.

The project was led by scientists from Britain, Germany and the U.S. The team filtered through vast amounts of DNA sequence data, effectively translating the sequence into something that plant breeders could use.

Professor Keith Edwards said: "Since 1980, the rate of increase in wheat yields has declined. Analysis of the wheat genome sequence data provides a new and very powerful foundation for breeding future generations of wheat more quickly and more precisely, to help address this problem."

The analysis is already being used in research to introduce a wider range of genetic variation into commercial cultivation and make use of wild wheat's unused genetic pools that could help advance tolerance to diseases and the effects of climate change. 

Professor Douglas Kell, Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council, Chief Executive, said: "In the face of this year's wheat crop losses, and worries over the impact on prices for consumers, this breakthrough in our understanding of the bread wheat genome could not have come at a better time. This modern strategy is a key component to supporting food security and gives breeders the tools to produce more robust varieties with higher yields. It will help to identify the best genetic sequences for use in breeding programmes."

David Willetts, Minister for Universities and Science said: "This groundbreaking research is testament to the excellence of Britain's science base and demonstrates the capability we want to build on through the agri-tech strategy currently being developed. The findings will help us feed a growing global population by speeding up the development of new varieties of wheat able to cope with the challenges faced by farmers worldwide."

The study was published in the journal Nature.

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