June 16, 2016

story courtesy of Agri-Pulse Communications, Inc.

WASHINGTON, June 15, 2016 – Wheat breeders around the world now have access to the whole genome assembly for bread wheat, courtesy of the International Wheat Genome Sequencing Consortium.

Scientists will be able to download the assembly to accelerate crop improvement programs and wheat genomics research. IWGSC says the data set will facilitate the identification of genes associated with important agricultural traits such as yield increase, stress response, and disease resistance and, ultimately, will make possible the production of improved wheat varieties for farmers.

“The IWGSC policy has always been to make all data publicly available as soon as they have passed the quality checks,” IWGSC Executive Director Kellye Eversole said in a release. “By doing so, the scientific community can start exploiting the data now while the consortium progresses towards a gold standard reference sequence, anticipated to be released in 2017.”

Steve Joehl, director of research and technology with the National Association of Wheat Growers, called the release “a very big deal.” He noted that wheat is the last of the major world crops to have its gene sequenced.

“Now, with this information, wheat breeders are on par with corn soy, cotton and others crops,” he said. The data will allow scientists to more effectively select areas of research, “cutting breeding time virtually in half.” Joehl said the data set would be especially helpful for researchers using the new gene editing techniques. “They’ll be able to more easily fix a gene that’s not doing what it’s supposed to do, or silence a gene that’s doing something it’s not supposed to do,” Joehl said in a telephone interview.

The consortium says the data release represents the IWGSC’s continued effort to produce a “gold standard reference sequence” – the complete map of the entire genome that precisely positions all genes and other genomic structures along the 21 wheat chromosomes. The wheat genome is large – five times that of the human genome – and complex, with three sets of seven chromosomes.

Over the coming months, the IWGSC says its project team will continue its work towards completing a high quality, ordered sequence of the wheat genome that includes annotating and identifying the precise locations of genes, regulatory elements, and markers along the chromosomes, thereby providing invaluable tools for wheat breeders. The final result will integrate all genomic resources produced under the umbrella of the IWGSC over the last decade, including individual physical and genetic maps.

Wheat is the staple food for more than a third of the global human population and accounts for 20 percent of all calories consumed in the world.

As the global population grows, so too does its dependence on wheat. To meet future demands of a projected world population of 9.6 billion by 2050 (up from an estimated 7.3 million now), wheat productivity needs to increase by 1.6 percent each year, IWGSC says. In order to preserve biodiversity, water, and nutrient resources, the majority of this increase has to be achieved via crop and trait improvement on land currently cultivated rather than committing new land to cultivation. As for other major crops, a well annotated reference genome sequence will be an invaluable resource towards this goal by providing the detailed maps of genes and gene-networks that can be improved through breeding.

Funding for the project was provided by several institutions in Europe, Canada and the U.S., including Kansas State University through the U.S. National Science Foundation Plant Genome Research Program and the Kansas Wheat Commission.