Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Wheat and Apple genomes provide hope for food security

The recent sequencing of two major crop genomes is good news for plant protection and for food security.

With the full genetic sequence now available for wheat and apple, scientists will have more information at their fingertips for the improvement of these crops to fight plant diseases and to ensure that growing human populations have adequate food resources in the future.

On the 26th of August last, a team of researchers in the UK released the 'first draft' of the wheat genome. While further work needs to be done to produce a fully annotated genome, the work is a major step forward for plant science.

The team of researchers responsible for the the wheat genome publication were funded by the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC) and come from the University of Liverpool, the University of Bristol and the John Innes Centre.

The first draft (basically the raw data from the sequencing work) will need to be further annotated and assembled into the individual chromosomes and is based on a reference wheat variety called Chinese Spring. Information on this reference variety will be key to unlocking the genetic information behind other commercial varieties of wheat.

Prof. Mike Bevan from the John Innes Centre says that "The sequence coverage will provide an important foundation for international efforts aimed at generating a complete genome sequence of wheat in the next few years".

The information should lead to improvements in current wheat varieties to ensure that high yields can be maintained in the face of changing environmental conditions and an increased threat from a variety of plant pathogens.

'By understanding the genetic differences between varieties with different traits we can start to develop new types of wheat' - Prof. Anthony HallProf. Anthony Hall of the University of Liverpool hopes that the new information will allow scientists to probe differences between wheat varieties with different characteristics: "By understanding the genetic differences between varieties with different traits we can start to develop new types of wheat better able to cope with drought, salinity or able to deliver higher yields. This will help to protect our food security".

Meanwhile, just this week, an international team of scientists announced that they had published a draft sequence of the domestic apple genome. The genome was published in the current issue of Nature Genetics.

Apple is the main fruit crop of the world's temperate regions and is a member of the plant family Rosaceae which includes many other important species including cherry, pear, peach, apricot, strawberry, and rose.

Much like with the wheat genome, this new information will allow scientists to identify genes which provide desirable characteristics to the crop such as higher yields and disease or drought resistance.

The work by scientists from Italy, France, New Zealand, Belgium and the US was based on the well-known golden delicious apple.

'the scientists were also able to delve into the apples mysterious past'As well as looking to the future of apple production, the scientists were also able to delve into the apples mysterious past. For years they have argued about where the domestic apple came from and now they know. The data published this week shows that the ancestor of the modern apple in Malus sieversii, a plant native to the mountains of southern Kazakhstan.

Prof. Doug Kell, Chief Executive of the BBSRC, who funded the wheat project, points out that "The best way to support our food security is by using modern research strategies to understand how we can deliver sustainable increases in crop yields, especially in the face of climate change. Genome sequencing of this type is an absolutely crucial strategy.

"Knowledge of these genome sequences will now allow plant breeders to identify the best genetic sequences to use as markers in accelerated breeding programmes" said Prof. Kell.

Both the apple and wheat genome work have been made possible by huge advances in sequencing technology. As Prof. Hall of University of Liverpool notes: "Sequencing the human genome took 15 years to complete, but with huge advances in DNA technology, the wheat genome took only a year. The information we have collected will be invaluable in tackling the problem of global food shortage".


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