Genomics

Did you know the wheat genome is five times larger than your own? It’s true, and it’s one reason scientists are still working to sequence the genetic material of the world’s most cultivated and consumed grain – wheat.

Today, public wheat breeders use DNA markers to make breeding more accurate at a lower cost. This advanced utilization of wheat genomics is possible because of USDA/Agricultural Research Service (ARS) investments in regional genotyping labs, USDA/National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) funding of coordinated agricultural projects and growers’ investments through checkoff dollars to state university programs.

Wheat needs additional investments in pre-competitive basic science to broaden the availability of genomic resources and facilities that can make full use of these tools.

Because wheat’s genome is so large, it is very complex to sequence. The International Wheat Genome Sequencing Consortium (IWGSC) is an international non-profit partnership of grower organizations, public and private breeders and scientists from 34 countries, which formed to tackle this challenge. Its goal is to develop a high-quality, manually-annotated genome sequence that is anchored to the genetic and phenotypic maps, which will drive the next generation of technology advances.

We strongly encourage USDA’s Agriculture and Food Research Initiative (AFRI) to prioritize participating in the international work toward completing the sequencing of the wheat genome by supporting work on the chromosomes assigned to U.S. scientists.

New methods are also needed to identify and validate genetic traits and to rapidly integrate these traits into market-ready wheat. Crucial to that work is funding for the four USDA/ARS Regional Molecular Genotyping Laboratories, which apply new genomics information and DNA molecular marker technologies in the improvement of wheat.

The wheat industry strongly supports the President’s budget request for an additional $500,000 for the Small Grains Genotyping Lab in Pullman, Wash., which has been underfunded in recent years.