Wheat genome discovery paves way for higher yields, enhanced nutrition

Wheat genome discovery paves way for higher yields, enhanced nutrition
Hikmet Budak (credit: MSU/ Adrian Sanchez-Gonzalez)

The entire sequence of the genome of bread wheat has been published, paving the way for wheat with better yields, enhance nutritional quality, improved sustainability and better suitability to climate change.

The genome was published by the International Wheat Genome Sequencing Consortium in the journal Science following thirteen years of collaborative international research.

Hikmet Budak, Winifred Asbjornson Plant Sciences Chair in the Montana State University (MSU) College of Agriculture, was one of more than 200 scientists from 73 research institutions in 20 countries who authored the research article.

“The publication has so many implications not only in science, but in countries facing food insecurity all over the world,” he said:

“This could lead to higher incomes for farmers, better nutrition for world populations and new wheat varieties.

“The research also offers immense potential for the scientific world to create new discoveries when it comes to agricultural food production and security.”

At MSU, Budak and colleagues in the Department of Plant Sciences and Plant Pathology recently sequenced a Montana barley cultivar, Hackett, and they’re currently working on sequencing a Montana winter wheat cultivar, Yellowstone.

Sequencing the bread wheat genome was long considered an impossible task, due to its enormous size – five times larger than the human genome – and complexity. The article 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.

According to the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), in order to meet future demands of a projected world population of 9.6 billion by 2050, wheat productivity must increase by 1.6 percent each year.

In order to preserve biodiversity, water and nutrient resources, the majority of this increase must be achieved through crop and trait improvement on currently cultivated land.

A key crop for food security, wheat is the staple food of more than a third of the global human population and accounts for almost 20 percent of the total calories and protein consumed by humans worldwide, more than any other single food source, according to the FAO.

With the reference genome sequence now completed, crop breeders have at their disposal new tools to address these challenges as they will 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. In turn, they can produce hardier wheat varieties.

It’s 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.