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Wheat genome sequencing approach aims to revolutionise crop research

By Will Chu , 08-Jan-2016
Last updated on 08-Jan-2016 at 13:35 GMT2016-01-08T13:35:55Z

Wheat is the staple food for more than 35% of the global human population and accounts for 20% of all calories consumed throughout the world (image:iStock.com)
Wheat is the staple food for more than 35% of the global human population and accounts for 20% of all calories consumed throughout the world (image:iStock.com)

Research into bread wheat genomes will provide researchers with a new resource to improve yield, stress response, pest resistance and wheat adaptation, the International Wheat Genome Sequencing Consortium (IWGSC) has announced. 

This new wheat genome sequence generated aims to understand the genetic blueprint of one of the world’s most important crops. Once the full, chromosome–based sequence is known, plant breeders would be able to accelerate breeding programs identifying how genes control factors such as grain quality and disease.

The public-private collaborative project consists of producing a whole genome assembly of the bread wheat variety ‘Chinese Spring.’  A combination of advanced software, computer programming and bioinformatics tools allow the IWGSC to use existing sequencing technologies to look at virtually the entire wheat genome.

Wheat is the staple food for more than 35% of the global human population and accounts for 20% of all calories consumed throughout the world. To meet future demands of a projected world population of 9.6 billion by 2050, wheat productivity needs to increase by 1.6% each year.

This whole genome assembly data will eventually be integrated with physical-map based sequence data to produce an ordered sequence for each wheat chromosome that locates genes, regulatory elements, and markers along the chromosomes.

International Collaboration

The project is coordinated by the IWGSC and co-led by researchers from  IPK Gatersleben in Germany, the University of Saskatchewan’s Crop Development Centre in Canada, the Global Institute for Food Security in Canada, and Kansas State University in the United States.

Project participants also include researchers from Illumina; NRGene in Israel and the United States; Tel Aviv University in Israel; and the French National Institute for Agricultural Research (INRA).

“The preliminary results obtained by NRGene are 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,” said Kellye Eversole, IWGSC executive director.

“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 (e.g., chromosome shotgun sequences, physical maps, and physical map-based sequencing) to deliver a high quality reference sequence for the wheat genome in less than two years.”

The significance of this achievement is all the more impressive especially when considering the work involved. The wheat genome itself is huge, with a total of 16 billion base pairs of DNA—especially compared to other significant staple crops like rice and corn, which have 430 million and 2.5 billion respectively

Given that the wheat genome is five times the size of the human genome, previous estimates suggest this work would take four or five more years.

Results of this new approach will be presented at workshops at the Plant and Animal Genome Conference taking place in San Diego from Jan. 9 to 13. All data will be available in the IWGSC wheat sequence repository at URGI-INRA.

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