Research Progress, Partnership Announced Here and Abroad

August 27, 2010 Bookmark and Share

Three major announcements were made this week in the world of wheat research, demonstrating the increasing speed with which innovations and partnerships are occurring that should quicken the release of new and improved varieties for growers.

A team of researchers in the United Kingdom, funded by the UK government’s Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC), announced Friday that they have publicly released sequence coverage of the wheat genome.

All genetic material in the world is made up of proteins known by the first letters of their names, A, C, G and T. With the information announced this week, scientists now know the order of the vast majority of the letters in the wheat genome, though they have yet to translate the code to know what the letter sequences mean.

The genome data released are in a “raw” format, meaning a complete copy of the genome requires significant work on annotation and the assembly of the data into chromosomes.

This draft release is a step toward a version of the genome that will help breeders around the world gain deeper understanding of the crop and the genetic differences between varieties.

The wheat genome is five times larger than the human genome, a product of its evolution over thousands of years from wild varieties to domesticated ones worked on extensively by wheat breeders around the globe.

The UK project has been developed as a collaborative effort of the International Wheat Genome Sequencing Consortium (IWGSC) that was launched by U.S. growers in 2005 to obtain a high quality reference genome sequence for bread wheat.

“This is a first step toward developing a significant pool of publicly available single nucleotide polymorphism resources that breeders can use to understand the genetic underpinnings of different wheat varieties,” said Kellye Eversole, executive director of the IWGSC. “In turn, this will help breeders develop better wheat varieties.”

Another major announcement came earlier in the week when Australian research organization InterGrain announced Monsanto would acquire a 19.9 percent minority interest in its operations, allowing the two to exchange wheat germplasm and technology tools.

The alliance will focus on work in areas like yield performance, disease resistance, drought tolerance and end-use quality. Over time, InterGrain said the collaboration will allow it access to biotechnology-derived traits Monsanto produces for wheat, which are expected in a seven- to ten-year timeframe.

The announcement indicated that work in Australia may also provide new technologies for U.S. growers and wheat growers around the world.

Also this week, Heartland Plant Innovations (HPI) in Manhattan, Kan., announced the launching of a wheat doubled haploid laboratory through the company’s advanced plant breeding business.

Doubled haploid technology allows plant breeders to cut the time required to develop a new wheat variety almost in half. When coupled with the use of additional modern breeding technologies such as molecular markers, a high-resolution physical map and a sequenced genome, the time required for identifying and cloning important genes could be cut dramatically.

Heartland Plant Innovations is a joint venture between the Kansas Association of Wheat Growers, Kansas Wheat Commission, several private companies, Kansas State University, the University of Kansas and the Kansas Bioscience Authority.

Forrest Chumley, president and chief executive officer of HPI, said the new lab would give “a major boost to U.S. wheat breeding programs.”

More about the genome announcement is here.

More about the Monsanto-InterGrain announcement is at the InterGrain website, here.

More on the HPI announcement is here.