Crop Biotech Update

Gene Discovery Yields High Promise for Wheat Fertility in Changing Climate

November 10, 2021

Using CRISPR-Cas9 gene editing technique, researchers from the John Innes Centre have identified a gene in wheat that has a key role in the production of seeds. The discovery may help breeders in developing wheat varieties resilient to climate change.

The gene in wheat ZIP4 is responsible for maintaining 50% of the crop's yield. Wheat has a polyploid genome that evolved as a combination of wild grasses which cross-fertilized some 10,000 years ago in the Middle East. During this process, the major meiotic gene ZIP4 duplicated from chromosome 3 into chromosome 5B. Previous studies showed that the duplicated gene performs two key functions during meiosis: promotion of faithful chromosome pairing, and suppression of crossover between related chromosomes.

For more than 60 years, the suppression function was believed responsible for genome stability and grain yield. The researchers created a mutant plant with the ZIP4 5B gene deleted, leading to the loss of both its functions. This mutation yielded 50% fewer grains and confirmed that ZIP4 5B has a critical role in wheat fertility.

For more details, read the news article on the John Innes Centre website.

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