Genetic blueprint of bread wheat genome unveiled to improve world’s most popular cereal crop

The Genome Analysis Centre (TGAC) played a key part in the generation and analysis of the draft sequence of the bread wheat genome, published today, in the international journal Science. The work led by the International Wheat Genome Sequencing Consortium (IWGSC) provides new insight into the structure, organisation, and evolution of the large, complex genome of the world’s most widely-grown cereal crop.

Generated under the auspices of IWGSC, the Chromosome Survey Sequence represents the most complete version of the wheat genome to date. A major part of the sequencing and assembly work was performed in the UK by TGAC, where 14 of the 21 chromosomes were sequenced and also generated all of the chromosome assemblies. The data is available in Ensembl Plants site hosted at the EMBL European Bioinformatics Institute (EMBL-EBI).

The genetic blueprint is an invaluable resource to plant science researchers and breeders. For the first time, they have at their disposal a set of tools enabling them to rapidly locate specific genes on individual wheat chromosomes throughout the wheat genome. As of today, researchers in the IWGSC estimate that the full genome sequence will be available within three years.

With a chromosome-based full sequence in hand, plant breeders will have high quality tools at their disposal to accelerate breeding programs and to identify how genes control complex traits such as yield, grain quality, disease, pest resistance, or abiotic stress tolerance. They will be able to produce a new generation of wheat varieties with higher yields and improved sustainability to meet the demands of a growing world population in a changing environment.

“With the draft gene sequence for each of the bread wheat chromosome and the first reference sequence of chromosome 3B, we have reached a great milestone in our roadmap,” said Catherine Feuillet, IWGSC co-chair. “We know now the way forward to obtain a reference sequence for the 20 remaining chromosomes and we hopefully will be able to find the resources to achieve this in the next three years.”

Mario Caccamo, Director of TGAC, added: “We are very proud to be part of this ground-breaking project led by the IWGSC. One of our main research priorities at TGAC is to address the grand challenge of maintaining food security through the application of genomic technologies. It is very exciting to see the impact of the use of Next Generation Sequencing technologies and bioinformatics tools applied to the improvement of wheat, one of the most widely cultivated crops in the world.”

The draft sequence is already providing new insights into the history and evolution of the wheat genome and genes involved in grain development, as exemplified in two additional publications appearing in the same issue of Science.

Wheat is a major dietary component for many populations across the world. Grown on more land than any other crop, more than 215 million hectares of wheat are harvested annually to generate a world production of almost 700 million tons, making it the third most produced cereal after maize and rice. It is the leading source of vegetable protein in human food, having higher protein content than either maize or rice. The wheat plant is highly versatile due to its ability to grow in a wide range of environments. Wheat grain is easily stored and can be converted readily into flour for making numerous varieties of high quality edible food.

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