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Scientists Crack Wheat Genome

August 27, 2010

In what could be a major step forward in the battle to stop global food shortages, a team of UK scientists have successfully decoded the wheat genome and plan to make the DNA data of this vital crop available to farmers so that they, in turn, can improve their annual yield.

Professor Neil Hall and Dr. Anthony Hall at the University of Liverpool, Professor Keith Edwards and Dr. Gary Barker at the University of Bristol, and Professor Mike Bevan at the John Innes Centre were able to gain access to 95-percent of all wheat genes by conducting five read-throughs of the crop over the course of year, according to a University of Liverpool press release dated August 26.

“The information we have collected will be invaluable in tackling the problem of global food shortage. We are now working to analyze the sequence to highlight natural genetic variation between wheat types, which will help significantly speed up current breeding programs,” Neil Hall said.

“The genome sequence data of this reference variety, Chinese Spring wheat, will now allow us to probe differences between varieties with different characteristics. By understanding the genetic differences between varieties with different traits we can start to develop new types of wheat better able to cope with drought, salinity or able to deliver higher yields. This will help to protect our food security while giving UK plant breeders and farmers a competitive advantage,” he added in a second press release, also dated August 26, from the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC).

The research was funded by the BBSRC and was conducted at the Liverpool University’s Center for Genomic Research, where the team of scientists was able to access five state-of-the-art genome analyzers, which can reportedly scan DNA hundreds of times faster than the equipment that required 15 years to sequence the human genome starting in 1990.

According to Kate Kelland of Reuters, the wheat genome is the last of the major food crops to be sequenced, and even though Anthony Hall notes that this is “stiff fragmented” and essentially “a draft genome,” the fact that wheat possesses five-times the amount of DNA as mankind makes this, in Kelland’s words, “one of the largest genome projects undertaken.”

“By understanding the genetic differences between varieties with different traits we can start to develop new types of wheat better able to cope with drought, salinity or able to deliver higher yields,” Neil Hall told Kelland on Friday. “The information we have collected will be invaluable in tackling the problem of global food shortage”¦ We need to be breeding now what we’ll need to be eating in 10 years’ time.”

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