Biotech Updates

Scientists Uncover Breeding Gold Mine Discoveries for Wheat Genetic Improvement

November 17, 2021

Through a series of unexpected discoveries, researchers from Rothamsted Research were able to obtain information that plant breeders and academics can use to mix and match wheat genes to develop improved varieties, which can jumpstart an increase in wheat yield production that has stagnated in recent years.

The scientists used a highly stringent experimental approach to capture wheat gene sequences that they can track back to the promoters of individual genes known as the Exome Capture. They then found that the promoters of the three copies of each gene responsible for 10 key agronomic traits could be captured and sequenced in high confidence.

Their first discovery identified naturally occurring variation in wheat that breeders were previously not aware of. Now researchers can identify how these newly found variations relate to key agronomic traits like disease resistance and track them through high-throughput molecular techniques for a more precise selection of improved characteristics in wheat.

The second discovery involved the promoter sequence variation in some wheat landraces and the ancestral einkorn wheat. Both can be found in many commercial wheat varieties. This sequence is now made available to other scientists for exploration.

Lastly, the scientists were able to determine some sequence differences across promoter regions in areas within binding sites that switch genes on and off. Prior to this, researchers were only able to access limited sequence variation in the whole promoter regions. The new discovery leads them to believe that the small variations are likely to play a significant role in the biology of wheat. Thus, promoters and gene coding sequences are both equally important in determining the resulting wheat plant.

With the new discoveries, the scientists said that their work confirmed that researchers and breeders do not only need genes to understand the wheat genome and that they now have the ability to combine different genes based on their promoter sequence variants and not just on their protein variation alone.

Read the full paper in Plant Biotechnology Journal and the news release by Rothamsted Research to find out more.

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