Kansas State University and the Kansas Wheat Commission are spearheading an effort to create the Wheat Genome Sequencing Consortium, an international programme focused on mapping the complete sequence of common (hexaploid) wheat.
Wheat, a cereal grain widely dispersed across the globe, is the raw material for a host of food ingredients used extensively by the food industry, including starch, gluten and flour.
Global wheat production for 2005/06 is expected to fall 9.7 million to 615.2 million tons, according to recent data from the US department of agriculture.
With most of the decrease expected in the EU-25Production, with smaller declines projected for Canada, Ukraine, Argentina, and Russia.
The US behind the call for a genome consortium charge that unraveling the sequence of wheat's DNA could bring new opportunities for the grain.
"The complete sequence of common wheat holds the key to genetic improvements that will allow growers to meet the growing demand for high-quality food produced in an environmentally sensitive, sustainable and profitable manner," said Bikram Gill, a professor of plant pathology at Kansas State and the US co-chair of the consortium.
The rice and maize genomes have already been mapped. Gill asserts that the "very little effort for wheat" is rooted in the reason that the wheat genome is very large, some 40-times larger than the rice genome and six-times larger than maize.
DNA is essentially build through the sequencing of four chemical letters called bases - A, C, G and T - into a code that controls wheat genetic traits. There are 16 billion base pairs in wheat.
"To learn the language of genetic traits we must determine the exact sequence of the four letters in the wheat genomes," says Gill.
In the near future, members of the consortium will begin identifying all 16 billion sequences, but for now the programme is in the process of plotting out physical maps of small sequences. This is just one of the short-term goals laid out by the consortium.
Identifying the cost of this new knowledge, the US group believes obtaining a complete sequence of common wheat "for a reasonable price is achievable" in the foreseeable future.
According to the group, in late 2003, the cost of obtaining coverage of a genome equivalent in size to the human genome was approximately $45 million (€37.3m). Within 18 months, the cost apparently came in at less than $18 million at any of the large sequencing centres.
New sequencing methods that are under development may reduce further sequencing costs in the future, says Gill.