Wheat research progressing

Research efforts to sequence the wheat genome are delivering results that will bring improved varieties, say officials.

Wheat is described as the Mount Everest of plant genomes because of its complexity, having five times more DNA than the human genome. As a result, wheat is the only major crop that has not been sequenced. Researchers say related projects have long been underfunded.

“There has been some investment in wheat genome sequencing, some in Canada, and some other countries,” said Bikram Gill, a researcher at Kansas State University and director of the university’s Wheat Genetic and Genomic Resources Centre.

He contributed to a project that identified and cloned a wheat gene that prevents pre-harvest sprouting. Internationally, researchers are working on identifying the genetic blueprint of every trait in wheat.

“Now a lot of DNA sequence information is coming out. There will be a flood of genes that will be identified in wheat. That in turn is going to help breeders make yield advances, which is like one percent per year (today),” said Gill.

“Maybe we want to go to two percent per year yield advance. This is what’s going to drive that.”

Gill’s project, recently published in the journal Genetics, adds to a lengthy list of genes, including new stem-rust resistant genes that have been recently documented in scientific journals.

“We have advanced the technology to the point where we could sequence the wheat genome,” said Jan Dvorak, wheat geneticist at University of California, Davis. “The only thing that stops us is money.”

Gill’s discovery should provide breeders with a new tool to prevent pre-harvest sprouting, which is when grain germinates before harvest, affecting yield and crop quality.

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