Crop Biotech Update

Genomes of 480 Wheat Varieties Reveal Evolution, Human Sociocultural History

May 8, 2019

An international team of scientists involved in the large-scale WHEALBI study has analyzed the genomes of 480 wheat varieties, including wild grasses, ancient grains, and modern high-performance types. The research team learned about the evolution and cultivation of today's bread wheat and also found the links in wheat development to geographic and geopolitical events in human history.

The research team in Plant Genome and Systems Biology group (PGSB) at the Helmholtz Zentrum München identified three gene pools in the bread-wheat varieties used today that are closely linked to historical events: one from high-yielding varieties domesticated in the near east that spread as part of the green revolution and two separate gene pools from Western and Central Europe. They diverged between 1966 and 1985 as a result of geopolitical and socio-economic separation during the Cold War. With the fall of the Iron Curtain in 1989, their genomes reveal that the wheat lines gradually admixed again.

The researchers identified previously unknown genes that influence yield, flowering time, height, and stability of wheat plants. It was also revealed that the genome of today's wheat shows the emergence and expansion of the European Union. Wheat lines that used to be cultivated mainly in Central Europe are now used throughout Europe.

For more details, read the news release from Helmholtz Zentrum München.