Wheat's hidden genetic secrets revealed

14/08/2018

Wheat's hidden genetic secrets revealed

An international research team have uncovered the hidden genetic secrets that give wheat its remarkable ability for local adaptation - revealing a previously untapped resource for breeding better, more resilient wheat.

Wheat, together with maize and rice, provides the most human nutrition worldwide. It can thrive in a range of different environments.

Exploring 100 different wheat lines worldwide, a research team led by the Earlham Institute in collaboration with HelmholtzZentrum München, University of Liverpool and the John Innes Centre have revealed a trove of epigenetic variation that was previously unknown to current genotyping methods.

The new findings link crop evolution and phenotypic change to agricultural conditions - allowing us to protect future yields with a climate resistant armour through new breeding methods - contributing to the success of this global crop as well as significant implications for the wheat community.

Changes to DNA can happen due to the environment, but are still inherited. This means, in certain conditions, if an epigenetic change happens that is beneficial, this can be passed on to the next generation.

The research team found geographical patterns in these epigenetic changes between the 100 landraces of wheat studied, which suggests that these changes have arisen due to environmental conditions in those local areas.

This means breeders can use subtle changes at the epigenetic level to improve how plants respond to local conditions.

Essentially, there are more tools to enable farmers to keep on growing the best possible crop for their local environment.

The research was partly funded by the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council.

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Further information

Read more on the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council website.


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