Wheat genome blueprint accelerates innovation

September 17, 2018 by Sarath Peiris, University of Saskatchewan

University of Saskatchewan crop scientist Curtis Pozniak. Credit: University of Saskatchewan
"The wheat blueprint will enable us to decipher the genetic basis of important traits in wheat, such as genes responsible for resistance to fungal diseases and pests. That is the disruptive part. What took years to do before can now be done in a matter of a few weeks," said Pozniak, a wheat breeder at the Crop Development Centre (CDC) in the U of S College of Agriculture and Bioresources.

New knowledge generated by the International Wheat Genome Sequencing Consortium over the past 13 years is expected to have a huge impact on global food security, with the planet's population projected to reach 9.6 billion within three decades. The findings were published recently in the journal Science.

"From a breeding perspective, the blueprint will enable us to develop DNA markers for breeding. These markers will allow us to improve the efficiency of selecting important traits, which will ultimately help produce better varieties over the long term," Pozniak said.

The next step for the U of S team will be to lead the 10+ Wheat Genome Project—a larger-scale international initiative to sequence more than 10 cultivated from the main growing areas across the globe.

"We are very excited about this project. The idea is not use just one genome sequence, but make a comparative analysis of many sequences simultaneously," Pozniak said. "To understand what genes do in , you need multiple sequences so you can start comparing to really appreciate all of the differences. You can then associate these differences with important traits we select in breeding programs."

The genome structure mapped out for the Chinese Spring line will serve as a useful reference in developing new wheat varieties that have traits to resist diseases and pests as well as varied growing environments, he said.

Andrew Sharpe, director of genomics and bioinformatics at the U of S Global Institute for Food Security and co-lead with Pozniak on the wheat genomics research, is also excited that the new project will yield a lot of data on genomic variation that will help the agriculture industry respond to environmental changes.

"We're hoping to work out all the different gene variations that could have an impact on traits," Sharpe said. "Basically, we will end up with a catalogue of variation and how it impacts a crop in the field."

He expects this catalogue of genomic information to be available by fall of next year.

"This resource will have immediate application in the wheat breeding program at the CDC, where we will see the impact over the next few years," Sharpe said.

Because the CDC has been involved from the beginning of the wheat genome project, researchers here have the benefit of a two- to three-year early access to the information, he said.

"You will see that reflected in the new varieties that ultimately come out of the breeding pipeline," Sharpe said.

"By helping with selecting the most optimal plants in a breeding cycle, you end up with better performing cultivars being generated quicker than they were. That's important, particularly in a changing climate," said Sharpe.

Kirby Nilsen, a recent U of S Ph.D. graduate and now an assistant plant breeder at CDC, is among the first researchers worldwide to use the blueprint to develop pest-resistant wheat crops. He used the genome sequence to identify genes responsible for solid wheat stems, which act as a barrier to sawfly damage.

Explore further: The wheat code is finally cracked

Related Stories

The wheat code is finally cracked

August 16, 2018

Today in the international journal Science, the International Wheat Genome Sequencing Consortium (IWGSC) published a detailed description of the genome of bread wheat, the world's most widely cultivated crop. This work will ...

Scientists generate a high-quality wheat A genome sequence

May 11, 2018

Bread wheat (Triticum aestivum L.), feeding more than 35 percent of the human population and providing about 20 percent of calories and proteins consumed by humans, is a globally important crop due to its enhanced adaptability ...

Recommended for you

Computing the origin of life

December 14, 2018

As a principal investigator in the NASA Ames Exobiology Branch, Andrew Pohorille is searching for the origin of life on Earth, yet you won't find him out in the field collecting samples or in a laboratory conducting experiments ...

Black widow spiders dial up posture for survival and sex

December 14, 2018

A new study led by Western University's Natasha Mhatre shows that body dynamics and posture are crucial to how black widow spiders decode the important vibrations that travel through their webs and up their legs. Black widows ...

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.