Wheat Genome Sequenced
November 28, 2012

International Team Of Scientists Have Sequenced The Wheat Genome

Michael Harper for redOrbit.com — Your Universe Online

Wheat is an incredibly important crop. Considered one of the “big three” global crops, wheat accounts for 20% of total calories consumed by human beings. As much as 35% of the entire planet depend on wheat for their very existence. With wheat being so important to the survival of the human race, an internal group of scientists decided it was time to learn more about this important grain and set out to complete the first comprehensive analysis of wheat´s full genome.

Teams from the University of California, the University of Liverpool, the Institute of Bioinformatics and Systems Biology, Helmholtz-Zentrum, Munich and the Cold Harbor Springs Laboratory contributed to this project. Together, they worked through the vast amounts of DNA data presented by the wheat, compiling a sequence which plant breeders and scientists alike will be able to make use of in the future. These teams then made all the information available to anyone across the world. The resulting paper from this study has been published in the journal Nature today.

"By unlocking the genetic secrets of wheat, this study and others like it give us the molecular tools necessary to improve wheat traits and allow our farmers to produce yields sufficient to feed growing populations in the United States and overseas," said the USDA´s chief scientist and under secretary for Research, Education and Economics, Catherine Woteki.

"Genetics provides us with important methods that not only increase yields, but also address the ever-changing threats agriculture faces from natural pests, crop diseases and changing climates."

Professor Neil Hall from the University of Liverpool helped lead the project and likened the wheat genome data to a game of Scrabble.

“[Y]ou know which letters are present, and their quantities, but they need to be assembled on the board in the right sequence before you can spell out their order into genes,” he said in a statement.

“We´ve identified about 96,000 genes and placed them in an approximate order. This has made a strong foundation for both further refinement of the genome and for identifying useful genetic variation in genes that scientists and breeders can use for crop improvement.”

The wheat genome was particularly difficult to map out because it originated from 3 ancient grass species. Therefore, this one wheat genome is actually the composite of 3 different genomes. In fact, this genome is so large and so complex, the international team of scientists now say it´s 5 times larger than the human genome.

Just as important as sequencing the genome is having the technology to do it quickly. According to Professor Hall, the team used technology which was able to decode the genome “hundreds of times” faster than the technology used to sequence the human genome.

“This technology can now be applied to other genomes previously considered to be too difficult for detailed genetic study, such as sugar cane, an important biofuel crop,” said Professor Hall.

All organizations involved in this research have said this new advance will go a long way in reducing global hunger and protecting crops against droughts. With this sequencing done, work can begin to improve the adaption and breeding of wheat in Africa and Asia.

“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,” explained David Willets, the Mister for Universities and Science in the UK.