Research

Sequencing the wheat genome

Empowering sustainable agriculture by unlocking the genome of this highly complex food crop.

Project Summary.

Led by: Anthony Hall Group

Start date: 1 August 2012

End date: 31 July 2017

Duration: 60 months

Wheat is grown on the largest area of land of any crop at over 225 million hectares. It is also generally regarded as both the most important cereal for direct human consumption and the most significant global source of vegetable protein, with an estimated yearly production of 750 million tons. This makes wheat a vital crop for the populations most exposed to current and anticipated failures in global food security.

Securing food supply on a global scale requires solutions to a complex set of unprecedented problems, including rising demand due to major population increases and social mobility, global climate change, rising energy costs and land, water and nutrient limitations. Finding and implementing these solutions is a top priority for governments and scientists worldwide, and has been articulated as a key BBSRC strategic objective.

This project is a BBSRC strategic longer and larger (sLoLa) grant award that brings together complementary expertise in wheat genetics, genomics and bioinformatics from four UK based institutes: Earlham Institute (EI), John Innes Centre (JIC), European Bioinformatics Institute (EBI) and Rothamsted Research (RRes). Functional genomics research is carried out in collaboration with the University of California Davis.

The five-year research programme is being carried out in three inter-dependent themes and has run from August 1 2012.

Impact statement.

The transformative effect of access to a high quality genome sequence that is carefully analyzed, and directly and freely available to all users, is well known. Wheat is one of the three major crop plants of global importance, and the predicted impact of a high quality wheat genome resource on crop improvement will be profound, as genomics provides a framework for new breeding methods that are substantially faster and more effective.

The wheat genome project will have two an immediate, global impact on a wide range of new research in wheat. Systematic study of protein sequence variation, global gene expression, and the systems-level analysis of biological functions will transform research into crop improvement. Consequently, progress towards increasing yield stability and sustainable production will be substantially accelerated.

A key impact will be the direct and permanent improvements in the rate and scope of wheat breeding, leading to the production of new wheat varieties that can maintain high levels of productivity with reduced inputs. Wheat growers will benefit from new varieties that will be more productive and with new end-uses, leading to more stable incomes and diversified production, while research into nutrient- and water-use efficiency could significantly reduce the environmental footprint of growing wheat. In turn, consumers will benefit from more stable prices and access to a staple food.