Genetic make-up of wheat has been decoded for the first time: Scientists say it could lead to low allergy varieties and crops that need less water
- Researchers hope findings will allow them to produce new ‘low allergy’ varieties
- It is hoped the research will benefit sufferers from Coeliac disease
- Wheat has 16 billion base pairs – the building blocks of DNA – five times more than the humans
Scientists have decoded the entire DNA of wheat for the first time.
Researchers hope the findings will allow them to produce new low allergy varieties as well as crops that need less water.
It is hoped the research will benefit sufferers from Coeliac disease – who become ill when eating gluten.
It is the world’s most widely-cultivated crop on Earth and detailing it was a far more complex task than that of the human genome.
Wheat has 16 billion base pairs – the building blocks of DNA – five times more than the humans.
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Scientists have decoded the entire DNA of wheat for the first time. Researchers hope the findings will allow them to produce new low allergy varieties as well as crops that need less water (stock image)
More than 200 scientists from 73 research institutions including the UK’s John Innes Centre worked on the mammoth task – the results of which are published in the journal Science.
Wheat has 21 chromosomes, 107,891 genes and more than 4 million molecular markers.
Cristobal Uauy, Project Leader in crop genetics at the John Innes Centre says: ‘Genomic knowledge of other crops has driven progress in selecting and breeding important traits.
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‘Tackling the colossal wheat genome has been a Herculean challenge, but completing this work means we can identify genes controlling traits of interest more rapidly.
‘This will facilitate and make more effective the breeding for traits like drought or disease resistance.
He adds: ‘It is anticipated that the world will need 60 per cent more wheat by 2050 to meet global demand.
It is the world’s most widely-cultivated crop on Earth and detailing it was a far more complex task than that of the human genome (stock image)
Wheat productivity needs to increase by 1.6 per cent a year to meet the demands of a projected world population of 9.6 billion by 2050.
And to preserve biodiversity, water and nutrient resources, the world needs to produce more from existing cultivated land rather than cultivate more land.
‘We are in a better position than ever to increase yield, breed plants with higher nutritional quality and create varieties that are adapted to climate changes thanks to the research we and the international community are publishing.’
Philippa Borrill, Research Fellow at the John Innes Centre says: ‘The years of work that went into decoding the wheat genome are just the beginning.
‘These results facilitate further collaboration between scientists, breeders and farmers to locate and identify genes to improve wheat yield in a sustainable and responsible way, to meet the needs of a growing population.’
WHAT IS SUMMER FALLOW?
Farmers in the Great Plains region are shaping the local climate by abandoning the practice of summer fallow.
The practice consists of leaving wheat fields empty for one year in between crop harvests.
The tradition is deeply embedded in some agricultural regions, but scientists now know it is actually harmful to soil.
An essay on the phenomenon said: ‘The traditional belief – one that still prevails in some regions – was that leaving fields fallow for alternating growing seasons conserved soil water and nitrogen necessary for plant growth and also broke agricultural pest cycles.
‘Additionally, tilling the land, or turning the soil, during fallow periods controlled weeds and allowed soils to “breathe”.
‘The conventional wisdom went something like this: rigorous planting and harvesting exhausts the earth, and the soil needs to rest. And without plants to feast on, fewer pests survive to attack crops next year.’
However, researchers have now claimed that summer fallow deprives soil of moisture and nutrients.
And farmers who have decided not to observe the tradition have benefited the land by regulating the local climate, which has not been hit as hard by global warming as other regions have been.
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