The weed that helps to feed the world

January 30, 2018

Professor Rudi Appels

Crop science: Professor Rudi Appels is helping to unlock the secrets of wheat by researching its genome sequence

Scientists say that the detailed sequencing of the genome for a grass species considered a weed in some countries, could help to improve food security for the world’s expanding population.

Understanding the complex genetic features of goat grass (Aegilops tauschii) could help develop new wheat varieties that adapt to stressors like climate extremes and disease, they say in a comment article for Nature Plants published today (January 30, 2018).

The common bread wheat species we are familiar with today arose when emmer wheat cross-bred with goat grass around 8,000 years ago. Genes from goat grass contributed to bread wheat’s tolerance of cold and diseases, which is why both species are able to grow in so many parts of the world.

Murdoch University’s Professor Rudi Appels, who is one of the co-authors on the Nature article, said the genome sequence, published in November 2017, highlights the distinctive features of goat grass, known as “jumping genes”.

The further study of these complicated elements, which are so-called because they can change their position in the genome, could help bread wheat further adapt to stressors like climate extremes and disease, said Professor Appels and his co-authors.

“As our population rapidly expands, and our climate grows more extreme, it is very important we are able to produce wheat varieties which can survive and thrive,” he said.

“The availability of the genome sequence for goat grass provides further opportunity to explore and understand the properties which can help wheat improvement.

“Goat grass is highly adaptable and tolerant of diseases thanks to its genes. The genome sequence provides the basis for researchers to pinpoint them.

“Two new genes that can be utilised for resistance to the wheat stem rust pathogen have already been discovered as a result of the genome being sequenced.

“The sequence could even help researchers find genes that can improve wheat baking quality.”

Wheat is the world’s most widely grown crop cereal thanks to its adaptability to a number of climates. It is the staple food for more than a third of the world’s human population and accounts for 20 per cent of all calories consumed globally.

However, it has some of the largest and most complex genomes compared to other crop plants, making sequencing difficult.

Professor Appels played a key role in the international project, which published the draft sequence of the wheat genome in 2014. A high quality wheat genome sequence is planned for release later this year.

Professor Appels said gene editing using technologies such as CRISPR-Cas9 could result in further benefits. The technique means scientists can precisely manipulate specific sequences within the genomes of plants to produce more desired traits.

Professor Appels is currently working closely with AgriBio in Victoria to ensure the International Wheat Genome Sequencing Consortium project team work towards completing a high quality, ordered sequence of the wheat genome.

The genome sequence of goat grass was generated by an international team led by the University of California after two decades of research.

To read the Nature article, click here.

Print This Post Print This Post

Leave a comment

You can use these tags : <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>

We read every comment and will make every effort to approve each new comment within one working day. To ensure speedy posting, please keep your comments relevant to the topic of discussion, free of inappropriate language and in-line with the editorial integrity of this newsroom. If not, your comments may not be published.

Thanks for commenting!