U of S researchers help lead wheat genome sequencing breakthrough

SASKATOON – An international consortium of scientists co-led by the University of Saskatchewan (U of S) announced today that it has been able to crack the code for understanding the order of about 90 per cent of the highly complex genome of bread wheat, the most widely grown cereal in the world.

${vImageAlt}

“This new wheat genome sequence is an important contribution to understanding the genetic blueprint of one of the world’s most important crops,” said Curtis Pozniak, a plant scientist with the U of S Crop Development Centre in the College of Agriculture and Bioresources. “It will provide wheat researchers with an exciting new resource to identify the most influential genes for wheat adaptation, stress response, pest resistance and improved yield.”

A combination of advanced software, computer programming and bioinformatics tools enabled the International Wheat Genome Sequencing Consortium (IWGSC) to use existing sequencing technologies to look at virtually the entire wheat genome. This will complement existing IWGSC strategies that are studying one chromosome at a time.

The consortium expects to have the complete picture of the wheat genome puzzle (17 billion base pairs)—with a clear idea of how the genes are ordered—within two years’ time. Given that the wheat genome is five times the size of the human genome, previous estimates suggested this work would take four or five more years.

“The computational tools developed by NRGene, which use Illumina’s sequence data,  combined with the sequencing expertise of IWGSC has generated a version of the wheat genome sequence that is better ordered than anything we have seen to date.  We are starting to get a better idea of the complex puzzle that is the wheat genome,” said Pozniak.

The result will be much greater precision in the breeding process.

“Imagine that you have a blueprint for the order of important pieces of the wheat genome puzzle. With that information, it becomes far easier to assemble the puzzle more quickly into new and improved varieties,” said Pozniak. “But this sequence is just the first step. There is still much work to do to define the function of each of the genetic pieces so that breeders can identify the very best genes in the gene pool.”

Though the work was done on just one variety of bread wheat (Chinese Spring), the new knowledge will serve as the backbone to unlock the genetic blueprint for traits in other varieties as well, significantly accelerating global research into crop improvement, he said.

Nils Stein of IPK Gatersleben in Germany said the new sequence represents “a major breakthrough” for the consortium’s efforts to deliver an ordered sequence for each of the 21 bread wheat chromosomes.

Co-ordinated by the IWGSC, the project uses Israel-based NRGene’s DeNovoMAGICTM software with Illumina’s sequencing technology.

The public-private collaborative project is co-led by Stein, Pozniak, Andrew Sharpe of the Global Institute for Food Security at the U of S, and Jesse Poland of Kansas State University. Other project participants include Tel Aviv University in Israel and the French National Institute for Agricultural Research.

Funding was provided by Genome Canada, Genome Prairie, Saskatchewan Ministry of Agriculture, the Saskatchewan and Alberta Wheat Development Commissions and the Western Grains Research Foundation through the Canadian Triticum Applied Genomics (CTAG2) project; Kansas State University through the U.S. National Science Foundation Plant Genome Research Program; and Illumina, Inc.

IWGSC Executive Director Kellye Eversole said the preliminary results are impressive and will complement existing genomic information the consortium has gathered over the past decade. Making available the ordered sequence for each wheat chromosome that precisely locates genes and genetic markers along the chromosomes will provide invaluable tools for wheat breeders, she said.

Results of this new approach will be presented at workshops at the Plant and Animal Genome Conference taking place in San Diego from Jan. 9 to 13. All data will be available in the IWGSC wheat sequence repository at URGI-INRA.

Wheat is the staple food for more than a third of the global human population. As the global population grows, so too does its dependence on wheat. To meet future demands of a projected world population of 9.6 billion by 2050, wheat productivity needs to increase by 1.6 per cent each year. Saskatchewan supplies 10 per cent of the world’s total exported wheat and is Canada’s most important grain-producing region.

More information on today’s announcement is available on the IWGSC website here.

-30-

For more information, contact:

James Shewaga
Media Relations Specialist
University of Saskatchewan
james.shewaga@usask.ca
Office: 306-966-1851
Cell: 306-270-5583

Isabelle Caugant
IWGSC Communications Officer
communications@wheatgenome.org
+32 484 750 634
Twitter: @wheatgenome
.

About the IWGSC

The IWGSC, with more than 1,100 members in 55 countries, is an international, collaborative consortium, established in 2005 by a group of wheat growers, plant scientists, and public and private breeders. The goal of the IWGSC is to make a high quality genome sequence of bread wheat publicly available, in order to lay a foundation for basic research that will enable breeders to develop improved varieties. The IWGSC is a U.S. 501(c)(3) non-profit organization.www.wheatgenome.org


About IPK Gatersleben

The Leibniz Institute of Plant Genetics and Crop Plant Research, member of the Leibniz association, is a public non-university research institute with about 500 employees from over 30 nationalities. IPK`s mission is to study crop biodiversity for a better understanding of crop plant performance as a foundation for Bioeconomy in the time of global change. IPK is a leading institute in cereal genome analysis. www.ipk-gatersleben.de


About the 
University of Saskatchewan, one of Canada’s top 15 research-intensive universities

The U of S Crop Development Centre in the College of Agriculture and Bioresources is a field crop research organization that seeks to improve economic returns for farmers and the agriculture industry by improving existing crops, creating new uses for traditional crops, and developing new crops. The Global Institute for Food Security at the U of S helps deliver transformative innovation to agriculture in both the developed and developing world.


About Kansas State University

Kansas State University (K-State) was founded in 1863 as the nation’s first operational land-grant university. K-State researchers work to decode nature and improve lives—advancing the forefront of global food systems, biosciences, and animal health by using an interdisciplinary approach to enable impactful technologies and enhance well-being. The work of K-State researchers is critical to building the knowledge base necessary to drive innovation and economic development in Kansas, the region, and the country. In addition to conducting basic and applied research, K-State pioneers and prioritizes education and outreach that improves lives and revitalizes communities. http://www.k-state.edu/


About NRGene

NRGene is a genomic big data company developing cutting-edge software and algorithms to reveal the complexity and diversity of crop plants, animals, and aquatic organisms for the most advanced, sophisticated genetic research and breeding. NRGene tools have already been employed by some of the leading seed companies as well the most influential teams in academia. NRGene is located in Ness Ziona, Israel. www.nrgene.com