ONE GIANT LEAP FOR WHEAT
A major international research collaboration has revealed what makes wheat tick, promising discoveries to combat disease and produce higher yields more sustainably in tough conditions.
More than 200 scientists from 73 research institutes in 20 countries over 13 years have produced the most comprehensive map of a wheat genome, paving the way for more resilient and nutritious varieties of a staple crop that feeds more than a third of the global human population.
The detailed findings, published tomorrow in Science, describe more than 94% of the genome of Chinese Spring, a variety of bread wheat (Triticum aestivum), which is the world’s most widely cultivated crop. But all wheat varieties will benefit from the knowhow.
The project has been an immense challenge, acknowledges the International Wheat Genome Sequencing Consortium (IWGSC), which co-ordinated work. The wheat genome is five times the size of the human genome, with now well over 100,000 genes and more than 4 million molecular markers already identified and positioned across 21 chromosomes in three sub-genomes.
“For me, as a functional genomics and genetics researcher, having a continuous and fully annotated sequence for each of the 21 wheat chromosomes is of paramount importance,” says Kostya Kanyuka who, with bioinformatician Rob King, represented Rothamsted Research in the IWGSC.
“This will greatly speed up our efforts on identification of agriculturally important wheat genes, including those that would help to combat major fungal diseases,” notes Kanyuka. “This will also be hugely and immediately beneficial for wheat breeders, accelerating development of new elite varieties.”
Kanyuka and King provided manual annotation and curation of all genes belonging to two large families, Amino Acid Transporter (AAT) and Wall Associated Kinase (WAK), which are particularly important for wheat breeding and improvement.
Wheat productivity needs to increase by 1.6% a year to meet the demands of a projected world population of 9.6 billion by 2050. And to preserve biodiversity, water and nutrient resources, the world needs to produce more from existing cultivated land rather than cultivate more land.
Wheat breeders now have new tools at their disposal to address these challenges. They will be able to identify more rapidly factors that underlie agronomic traits, such as yield, grain quality, resistance to fungal diseases and tolerance to abiotic stress, and produce hardier wheat varieties.
“The publication of the wheat reference genome is the culmination of the work of many individuals who came together under the banner of the IWGSC to do what was considered impossible,” says Kellye Eversole, IWGSC’s Executive Director.
“The method of producing the reference sequence and the principles and policies of the consortium provide a model for sequencing large, complex plant genomes and reaffirms the importance of international collaborations for advancing food security,” notes Eversole.
Details of this high-quality reference genome sequence are expected to boost wheat improvement over the next decades, with benefits similar to those observed with maize and rice after their reference sequences were produced.
International Wheat Genome Sequencing Consortium contact:
Isabelle Caugant, Communications Director
Tel : +1 (0) 916 840 8801
About the International Wheat Genome Sequencing Consortium
The IWGSC, with 2400 members in 68 countries, is an international, collaborative consortium, established in 2005 by a group of wheat growers, plant scientists, and public and private breeders. The goal of the IWGSC is to make a high-quality genome sequence of bread wheat publicly available, in order to lay a foundation for basic research that will enable breeders to develop improved varieties. The IWGSC is a US 501(c)(3) non-profit organisation. For more information www.wheatgenome.org
About Rothamsted Research
Rothamsted Research is the longest-running agricultural research institute in the world. We work from gene to field with a proud history of ground-breaking discoveries, from crop treatment to crop protection, from statistical interpretation to soils management. Our founders, in 1843, were the pioneers of modern agriculture, and we are known for our imaginative science and our collaborative influence on fresh thinking and farming practices.
Through independent science and innovation, we make significant contributions to improving agri-food systems in the UK and internationally. In terms of the institute’s economic contribution, the cumulative impact of our work in the UK was calculated to exceed £3000 million a year in 20151. Our strength lies in our systems approach, which combines science and strategic research, interdisciplinary teams and partnerships.
Rothamsted is also home to three unique resources. These National Capabilities are open to researchers from all over the world: The Long-Term Experiments, Rothamsted Insect Survey and the North Wyke Farm Platform.
We are strategically funded by the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC), with additional support from other national and international funding streams, and from industry. We are also supported by the Lawes Agricultural Trust (LAT).
For more information, visit https://www.rothamsted.ac.uk/; Twitter @Rothamsted
1Rothamsted Research and the Value of Excellence: A synthesis of the available evidence, by Séan Rickard (Oct 2015)
The Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council is part of UK Research and Innovation, a non-departmental public body funded by a grant-in-aid from the UK government.
BBSRC invests in world-class bioscience research and training on behalf of the UK public. Our aim is to further scientific knowledge, to promote economic growth, wealth and job creation and to improve quality of life in the UK and beyond.
Funded by government, BBSRC invested £469 million in world-class bioscience in 2016-17. We support research and training in universities and strategically funded institutes. BBSRC research and the people we fund are helping society to meet major challenges, including food security, green energy and healthier, longer lives. Our investments underpin important UK economic sectors, such as farming, food, industrial biotechnology and pharmaceuticals.
More information about BBSRC, our science and our impact.
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The Lawes Agricultural Trust, established in 1889 by Sir John Bennet Lawes, supports Rothamsted Research’s national and international agricultural science through the provision of land, facilities and funding. LAT, a charitable trust, owns the estates at Harpenden and Broom's Barn, including many of the buildings used by Rothamsted Research. LAT provides an annual research grant to the Director, accommodation for nearly 200 people, and support for fellowships for young scientists from developing countries. LAT also makes capital grants to help modernise facilities at Rothamsted, or invests in new buildings.