Cracking the Wheat Genome Sequencing

International Wheat Genome Sequencing Consortium (IWGSC) is a consortium of more than 200 scientists from 73 institutions in 20 countries. Collectively, they authored a research article published in Sciencemag that presents the complete DNA sequence of Chinese Spring, a variety of wheat. In addition to the sequence of the 21 chromosomes, it also contains information about the precise location of 107,891 genes, more than 4 million molecular markers, and sequence information between the genes and markers containing the regulatory elements influencing the expression of genes.

A circular plot of the wheat genome. (Source: Science)

Why is wheat genome sequencing a big deal?

For starters, sequencing the bread wheat genome has been notoriously tricky. The wheat genome is very massive, five times larger than the human genome. This is because the wheat genome is essentially three genomes merged into one. Over the evolution of this strain, three different wheat strains combined and merged into one. As a result, there are three copies of each chromosome, which means that 85% of the genome is composed of repeated sequences.

Why you should care about gene sequencing of the wheat genome?

Archaeological records place the earliest cultivation of wheat at 9600 BCE. Today, wheat is one of the most widely grown food-crop in the world (220.4 million hectares, 2014) and 67% of the wheat is used for human consumption. Being a major crop, it is essential to maintain a sustainable growth of the wheat in order to meet the demands of a growing population. Sequencing the wheat genome will allow selective growth of varieties of wheat suitable to each climate. This adaptation to local environment will lead to higher yields, and enhanced nutritional quality and sustainability.

Where can you access the wheat genome?

IWGSC has made the entire genome freely and publicly available through their data repository hosted by URGI-INRA. The information has also been incorporated into EnsemblPlants and GrainGenes for further study and research.

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