Working towards global food security with the wheat genome sequence

Working towards global food security with the wheat genome sequence
Wheat accounts for almost 20% of the total calories and proteins consumed by humans, more than any other single food source.

The International Wheat Genome Sequencing Consortium (IWGSC) has published a detailed description of the genome of bread wheat, the world’s most widely cultivated crop.

The work around the wheat genome sequence will pave the way for the production of wheat varieties better adapted to climate challenges, along with:

  • Higher yields
  • Enhanced nutritional quality and
  • Improved sustainability.

The research presents the reference genome of the bread wheat variety ‘Chinese Spring’. The DNA sequence ordered along the 21 wheat chromosomes is the highest quality genome sequence produced to date for wheat.

The research is a result of 13 years of collaborative international research, authored by more than 200 scientists from 73 research institutions in 20 countries.

Wheat as a key crop for food security

As a key crop for food security, wheat is the staple food for more than a third of the global population. It accounts for almost 20% of the total calories and proteins consumed by humans, more than any other single food source.

To meet future demands, wheat productivity needs to increase by 1.6% each year. With the reference genome sequence now completed, breeders have at their disposal new tools to address these challenges.

Breeders will now be able to identify more rapidly, genes and regulatory elements underlying complex agronomic traits such as:

  • Yield
  • Grain quality
  • Resistance to fungal diseases and
  • Tolerance to abiotic stress.

What will the wheat genome sequence allow for?

Rudi Appels, University of Melbourne and Murdoch University Professor, and AgriBio Research Fellow said: “The wheat genome sequence lets us look inside the wheat engine,

“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.”

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

The results of the study

In addition to the sequence of the 21 chromosomes, the research article also presents 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 research has been published in the journal Science.

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