Victoria scientists pave way for faster precision breeding of wheat

Agriculture Victoria scientists have helped crack a genetic code that provides a new foundation to improve production and response to disease threats.

The work provides a new foundation to enhance wheat quality and better prepare an industry adapting to climate change.

The journal Science published the world’s first detailed road map of the wheat genome today, paving the way for faster precision breeding of improved varieties of what is a key global food crop.

Wheat is the most widely-cultivated crop on earth, contributing $6 billion in export revenue to the Australian economy each year.

READ: CSIRO helps develop high-fibre wheat

While a common food ingredient, its genetic makeup is so complex that the wheat genome is equivalent to a 16-billion-piece puzzle.

The publication is a culmination of 13 years of research by Agriculture Victoria honorary research fellow, Professor Rudi Appels, along with a team of Agriculture Victoria scientists and the International Wheat Genome Sequencing Consortium.

Appels was one of four founders and a lead researcher on the project, which has 202 co-investigators from 73 institutions across 20 countries.

“In other plant and animal species, access to a fully annotated and ordered genome has accelerated the development of important traits,” he said.

“Wheat has lagged behind other crop species because of the complexity of its genome, so today’s publication of the 21 fully annotated chromosomes of the bread wheat genome is a transformational leap for science and industry,” said Appels.

“It provides a foundation for the genetically complex task of developing varieties with improved yield and quality, without compromising regional adaptation to stresses,” he said.

“This breakthrough has significant implications for the Australian wheat industry as it enables us to tackle challenges such as adapting wheat for changing climatic conditions and to use fertiliser more efficiently,” said Appels.

The Australian research was largely conducted at the AgriBio Centre for AgriBioscience in Victoria.

“Australia brings to the table world-class capabilities for agricultural genomics research, including next generation sequencing and advanced scientific computing, as well as internationally recognised scientists. AgriBio’s capabilities have enabled us to make a significant contribution to the international effort to fully sequence and annotate the genome of bread wheat,” said Appels.

Appels, with Agriculture Victoria scientists, led the Australian effort to sequence the 7A chromosome – one of the 21 chromosomes of the bread wheat genome.

“Chromosome 7A is critical in determining components of yield and flour quality attributes in wheat grown in Australia,” said Appels.

Support for this effort was led by the Grains Research and Development Corporation, and Bioplatforms Australia through the Australian Government’s National Collaborate Research Infrastructure Strategy.