The Future of Wheat Production is Here – Wheat Genome Finally Fully Sequenced

By Lainey Wolf, NAWG Intern Fall 2018

After 12 years of research and the work of 20 countries, the genome of wheat has finally been sequenced. The complexity of the wheat genome made sequencing a long and difficult process. Now, the world’s most widely cultivated crop has each gene sequenced, and the possibilities are endless. With the use of this scientific breakthrough farmers and scientists can now coordinate to improve wheat production.

Wheat is most complex plant to be fully genetically sequenced, to this date. Decoding the incredibly complex structure of the wheat genome is a major scientific breakthrough that will allow for future improvements in wheat production. Wheat has a genome five times larger than that of humans, with much of the DNA being highly repetitive. Additionally, the cells are hexaploid, meaning that there are six homologous pairs of chromosomes instead of just two. Now that each of the approximately 108,000 genes of wheat are known, it is time to finish figuring out exactly what each of them do. Like other organisms, often multiple genes influence certain characteristics. Once the purpose of a gene is identified modifications can be made to improve traits.

Modifying genes will allow for improvement across many areas in wheat production. In recent years, wheat yields have been declining. Increasing yields would provide more food to meet the demands of a growing world population. Resistance to climatic changes such as drought and frost could benefit farmers incredibly. Additionally, disease and pest resistance could potentially decrease a large loss of yield for wheat growers across different terrains.

By creating better seeds, that are more suited to the environment which they will grow in, there is an increased potential for a more abundant and efficient harvest. The potential for environmental improvements has increased exponentially with the sequencing of the wheat genome. Creating more drought resistance wheat would allow for water conservation. Pest resistance could result in the reduced usage of pesticides, which enter the environment.

Sequencing the genome of wheat has opened a new door for shaping the future of wheat production. With continued research and scientific discovery, one of the world’s major food sources can be improved for the benefit of producers and consumers alike. Looking forward, the wheat industry can hope to improve yields, environmental impacts and efficiency because of this breakthrough.

To read more view the full article by the Journal of Science at: http://science.sciencemag.org/content/361/6403/eaar7191