Wheat code cracked

By Country News

Agriculture Victoria scientists have helped to crack the genetic code of wheat, laying the foundation to improve production and response to disease threats, enhance wheat quality, and better prepare an industry adapting to climate change.

The wheat’s genetic code, which was published in the journal Science on Friday, is almost five times bigger than that of the human genome, and the world’s first detailed road map of the genome paves the way for faster precision breeding of improved varieties.

Wheat is the most widely-cultivated crop on earth, contributing $6billion in export revenue to the Australian economy each year.

While a common food ingredient, its genetic makeup is so complex that the wheat genome is equivalent to a 16-billion-piece puzzle.

The publication is a culmination of 13 years of research by Agriculture Victoria honorary research fellow Professor Rudi Appels, along with a team of Agriculture Victoria scientists and the International Wheat Genome Sequencing Consortium.

Professor Appels was one of four founders and a lead researcher on the project, which has 202 co-investigators from 73 institutions across 20 countries.

‘‘In other plant and animal species, access to a fully annotated and ordered genome has accelerated the development of important traits,’’ he said.

‘‘Wheat has lagged behind other crop species because of the complexity of its genome, so the publication of the 21 fully annotated chromosomes of the bread wheat genome is a transformational leap for science and industry.

‘‘It provides a foundation for the genetically complex task of developing varieties with improved yield and quality, without compromising regional adaptation to stresses.

‘‘This breakthrough has significant implications for the Australian wheat industry as it enables us to tackle challenges such as adapting wheat for changing climatic conditions and to use fertiliser more efficiently.’’

The Australian research was largely conducted at the AgriBio Centre for AgriBioscience in Victoria, which is Australia’s premier state-of-the-art agribioscience facility and a joint initiative of Agriculture Victoria and La Trobe University.

Professor Appels, with Agriculture Victoria scientists, led the Australian effort to sequence the 7A chromosome — one of the 21 chromosomes of the bread wheat genome — that is critical in determining components of yield and flour quality attributes.

Support for the project was led by the Grains Research and Development Corporation, and Bioplatforms Australia through the Australian Government’s National Collaborate Research Infrastructure Strategy.

The paper, titled Shifting the limits in wheat research and breeding through a fully annotated and anchored reference genome sequence, is now published in the journal Science.