Murdoch’s key role in groundbreaking wheat research

July 23, 2014

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Professor Rudi Appels

Murdoch University wheat researcher Professor Rudi Appels has played a key role in an international research project which has published the draft sequence of the bread wheat genome in the prestigious journal Science.

The chromosome-based draft provides new insight into the structure, organisation and evolution of the large, complex genome of the world’s most widely grown crop cereal.

Sequencing the genome provides an understanding of the interplay between sets of genes, helping researchers and breeders to produce a new generation of wheat varieties with higher yields and improved sustainability.

Professor Appels has been one of the co-chairs of the body which published the draft sequence – the International Wheat Genome Sequencing Consortium (IWGSC). As part of his role, he has helped to bring together a complex program of research spread over many countries including Germany, the United States, the Czech Republic and Canada.

He and his research team at Murdoch also focused on chromosome 7A (one of 21 wheat chromosomes) to determine its genome sequence as part of the overall research project. This work was funded by the Grains Research and Development Corporation (GRDC). Professor Appels and his team also provided analysis of grain proteins to validate the structure of selected genes.

Murdoch University and University of Queensland (D Edwards, J Batley) were the only research groups in Australia to take part in the sequencing project published in Science.

“The results are a fantastic resource for plant science researchers and breeders across the globe who are investigating wheat at a molecular-genetic level,” said Professor Appels, who is also chair of the Australia-China Centre for Wheat Improvement at Murdoch.

“The results have provided laboratories with a set of tools which enables them to rapidly locate specific genes on individual wheat chromosomes, and provide a basis for establishing DNA fingerprints for newly released varieties. The resource makes possible analyses that define adaptation to climate change and lead to discoveries at the genome level that were not possible before.”

The genome of bread wheat contains 100,000 or so genes compared to the human genome which contains roughly 30,000. Work on the draft sequence began in 2011.

The draft sequence is a major landmark towards obtaining a complete reference sequence of the bread wheat genome, the ultimate aim of the IWGSC.

Wheat is a major dietary component for many populations across the world. Grown on more land than any other crop, more than 215 million hectares of wheat are harvested annually to generate a world production of almost 700 million tons, making it the third most produced cereal after maize and rice.

The article can be read in full here.

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