Scientists Have Cracked the Wheat Genome Sequence

The International Wheat Genome Sequencing Consortium (IWGSC) published in the international journal Science, reported a detailed description of the bread wheat genome sequence, the world’s most widely cultivated crop. This is a major breakthrough that can hopefully improve global food security and offer comfort to those allergic.

After 13 years of research, 200 scientists from 73 research institutions in 20 countries have finally sequenced the genome of wheat. This might not sound like a big deal, but this wasn’t so simple to crack, as wheat’s genome is five times as big as the human genome! Due to its imposing size, its three sub-genomes, and 85 percent of the genome being composed of repeated elements, sequencing the bread wheat genome was long considered an impossible task. The DNA sequence ordered along the 21 wheat chromosomes is the highest quality genome sequence produced to date for wheat.

“The wheat genome sequence lets us look inside the wheat engine,” said Rudi Appels, University of Melbourne Professor and Murdoch University Professor, and AgriBio Research Fellow. “What we see is beautifully put-together to allow for variation and adaptation to different environments through selection, as well as sufficient stability to maintain basic structures for survival under various climatic conditions.”

As a staple for food security, wheat provides for more than a third of the global human population and accounts for almost 20 percent of the total calories and protein consumed by humans worldwide. The world’s population is projected to reach 9.6 billion by 2050, and to keep up, wheat production would need to increase by 1.6 percent each year.

With the reference wheat genome sequence released, wheat breeders have at their disposal new tools to address these challenges.

“It is a dream come true for Kansas wheat farmers, who were the first to invest in the wheat genome sequencing project and were pivotal in rallying U.S. wheat farmers in support of the wheat genome sequencing project,” said Bikram Gill, distinguished professor emeritus of plant pathology at Kansas State University. Gill was the first to organize the National Science Foundation and U.S. Department of Agriculture-sponsored workshop planning meeting on wheat genome sequencing in Washington, D.C., in 2003.

The availability of a high-quality reference genome sequence is expected to boost wheat improvement over the next few decades, with benefits similar to those observed with maize and rice after their reference sequences were produced.

In addition to the sequence of the 21 chromosomes, the report also detailed out the precise location of 107,891 genes and of more than 4 million molecular markers, as well as sequence information between the genes and markers containing the regulatory elements influencing the expression of genes.

The IWGSC achieved this result by combining the resources it generated over the last 13 years using classic physical mapping methods and the most recent DNA sequencing technologies. The sequence data were assembled and ordered along the 21 chromosomes using highly efficient algorithms, and genes were identified with dedicated software programs.

The researchers hope this knowledge will help develop wheat varieties that can withstand the dangers of rising temperatures, enhance nutritional quality, and help ensure food security for the world’s growing population.

Testing wheat or any other food product? Make sure to check out our Food Testing Application Guide!

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