A University of Saskatchewan (U of S) led research team believe they have made a major discovery that could enhance food security for millions of people around the world.
“Essentially we have completed the wheat genome jigsaw puzzle with all the pieces put together in their correct positions and order, providing an enormous advantage for breeders when searching for genes that control important traits in the crop,” said Curtis Pozniak, a researcher and wheat breeder at the Crop Development Centre in the U of S College of Agriculture and Bioresources.
“This breakthrough research will help produce better wheat varieties over the long term.”
Wheat is the world’s most widely cultivated crop, accounts for more than $4.5 billion in annual sales in Canada.
Maurice Moloney, the executive-director of the Global Institute for Food Security at the U of S, said this discovery will have a major impact on global food security as the world’s population is expected to reach 9.6 billion by 2050.
“In light of climate change, water shortages and limitations on the availability of arable land, we will need to rely on plant genetics to increase wheat productivity,” Moloney said.
“Solving the massive puzzle of the wheat genome will go a long way towards accomplishing that, similar to the growth that was made in maize and rice crops after their reference sequences were assembled.”
Wheat breeder Richard Cuthbert agrees.
“Breeders will now have the information they need to identify economically important traits more rapidly, which will better enable development of wheat varieties with increases in yield, enhanced grain quality, improvements in disease resistance and more resilient to environmental stresses,” Cuthbert said.
“The result will be more nutritious grain that can be grown more effectively and efficiently in harsher climates.”
Mapping the wheat genome was considered an impossible task. It is five time larger than the human genome, and more complex.
The results were published Thursday in the journal Science after more than a decade of work by over 200 scientists in 20 countries,
The next step for the team is a larger-scale international initiative to sequence ten cultivated wheat varieties from main growing areas around the world, some which have already been completed.