Scientists have decoded the entire DNA of wheat for the first time. Researchers hope the findings will allow them to produce new low allergy varieties as well as crops that need less water.
It is hoped the research will benefit sufferers from Coeliac disease – who become ill when eating gluten. It is the world’s most widely-cultivated crop on Earth and detailing it was a far more complex task than that of the human genome. Wheat has 16 billion base pairs – the building blocks of DNA – five times more than the humans.
More than 200 scientists from 73 research institutions including the UK’s John Innes Centre worked on the mammoth task – the results of which are published in the journal Science. Wheat has 21 chromosomes, 107,891 genes and more than 4 million molecular markers. Cristobal Uauy, Project Leader in crop genetics at the John Innes Centre says: ‘Genomic knowledge of other crops has driven progress in selecting and breeding important traits Tackling the colossal wheat genome has been a Herculean challenge, but completing this work means we can identify genes controlling traits of interest more rapidly. This will facilitate and make more effective the breeding for traits like drought or disease resistance. It is anticipated that the world will need 60 per cent more wheat by 2050 to meet global demand.