Within this, the consortium established a final reference sequence for the largest chromosome, 3B, which could serve as a template for sequencing the remaining chromosomes. This was a key step in obtaining the full genome sequence, their ultimate aim for which they are currently at draft stage.
“One of the reasons that it is so important to complete a high quality reference sequence is to reverse the declining global annual yield growth, a step critical for production to be sufficient to meet demand. With advanced knowledge of the wheat genome, breeders will have better tools to select high yielding varieties that maintain quality and are resistance to abiotic and biotic stresses such as extreme weather events as well as pests and diseases that reduce net production,” said Kellye Eversole, IWGSC director.
The research meant for the first time scientists and plant breeders had a set of tools enabling them to rapidly locate specific genes on individual wheat chromosomes throughout the genome.
New tools for breeders
Grown on more land than any other crop, wheat was the leading source of vegetable protein in food world wide. More than 215 million hectares of wheat were harvested annually, amounting to almost 700 million tons of the commodity.
Once the full, chromosome–based sequence is known, plant breeders would be able to accelerate breeding programs as well as identify how genes control yield, grain quality, disease, pest resistance and abiotic stress tolerance.
“The bread industry will derive benefits from the findings released this week as plant breeders will have a better understanding of the genetic underpinnings of bread quality and food safety. This in essence provides breeders with new tools to develop wheat varieties that will meet the specific needs of the bread industry,” said Eversole.
For IWGCS, establishing the draft sequence was a milestone in their research, which could enable breeders to develop improved varieties. The Consortium was established in 2005, with more than 1,000 members in 57 countries. Their aim was to complete their research in three years’ time.
“The greatest challenges that we faced and continue to face are insufficient human and funding resources. We have a plan for finishing the complete, high quality reference genome sequence within three years if we can secure sufficient support,” Eversole added.