In what is being hailed as a major breakthrough, an international team of scientists has deciphered the complex genetic code of bread wheat, identifying traits that could help lead to more productive, hearty, and nutritious varieties.
A team of researchers from the University of Liverpool, University of California, Davis, and elsewhere reported in the journal Nature that they had identified about 96,000 wheat genes. The advance lays the groundwork for improving and enhancing wheat varieties through genetic engineering in ways that could improve crop yields, make plants better able to cope with disease and drought, and even offer increased health benefits to consumers.
The team sifted through huge stores of DNA data, translating it into something that scientists and plant breeders can use effectively to develop new wheat varieties. All of the team's data and analyses is now freely available to users world-wide.
The raw data of the wheat genome is like having tens of billions of scrabble letters; you know which letters are present, and their quantities, but they need to be assembled on the board in the right sequence before you can spell out their order into genes," said Neil Hall, a University of Liverpool researcher who helped lead the study.
"We've identified about 96,000 genes and placed them in an approximate order. This has made a strong foundation for both further refinement of the genome and for identifying useful genetic variation in genes that scientists and breeders can use for crop improvement."
Wheat is an important food stable. About 680 million tons are grown worldwide, with bread wheat providing more than one-fifth of the calories that we eat.
Researchers said decoding the wheat genome will allow breeders and researchers to select plants with combinations of genes with specific desirable traits.