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Scientists identify 90,000 genes in bread wheat

NEW DELHI, Nov 29, 2012, DHNS 23:47 IST

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Scientists have decoded the genome map of bread wheat to identify more than 90,000 genes, some of which will hold the key to develop salt and heat tolerant wheat varieties in the future.

Bread wheat is one of the world’s most important food crops, accounting for 95 per cent of global wheat cultivation. At present, wheat production is under pressure globally, thanks to climate change and surge in demand.

Creation of superior variants will require better understanding of the wheat’s genetic composition, which is a complicated job since wheat genome is six times the size of human genome and contains six sets of chromosomes.

“When there are three genomes, it is like a jigsaw puzzle where three boxes have been mixed together. It’s far more complex,” Neil Hall, a researcher at the University of Liverpool that led the wheat genome analysis, told Deccan Herald.

Though a global collaboration to sequence the wheat genome is underway, researchers from the US and Europe have devised a new genetic tool to study the entire wheat genome and picked up gene families linked to crop productivity.

The analysis furnishes valuable informations that may help wheat growers produce variants capable of coping better with disease, drought and other factors that lead to crop loss.

“Several classes of genes involved in energy harvesting, metabolism and growth are among gene families that could be associated with crop productivity. Our analysis provides a resource for accelerating gene discovery and improving this major crop,” the team reported in the “Nature” on Thursday.

Bread wheat (Triticum aestivum) constitutes a substantial part of the human diet, being an important source of protein, vitamins and minerals. Almost 90 per cent of the wheat cultivated in India are bread wheat.

On an average, India produces over 80 million tonnes of wheat every year and is only second to China in wheat production.

“The research will give tools in the hands of breeders to create new varieties. It will open up new windows in molecular breeding,” commented S Nagarajan, former director of the Delhi-based Indian Agriculture Research Institute, who is not associated with the study.

The decoding is the upshot of a collaboration that runs parallel to the International Wheat Genome Sequencing Consortium (IWGSC) that has members from both developed and developing countries. India too is a member of IWGSC and has the responsibility of sequencing both arms of chromosome 2A in wheat genome, which is being done by researchers at the Pubjab Agriculture University, Ludhiana, and the National Research Centre on Plant Biotechnology here.

“The consortium is working to sequence the wheat genome piece by piece. This is slow and difficult but is still our best strategy to produce a complete sequence. The new study takes us a step closer to a complete sequence,” said independent researcher Peter Langridge at the University of Adelaide.

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