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Indian Scientists Help Crack the DNA Code of Bread Wheat Genome

In a major breakthrough, a group of 18 Indian scientists from ICAR-National Research Centre on Plant Biotechnology, New Delhi; Punjab Agricultural University, Ludhiana and Delhi University South Campus together with over 200 scientists from 73 institutions in 20 countries have cracked the complex genome of bread wheat research variety ‘Chinese Spring’, once considered by scientists and insurmountable task. It has taken 13 years of research pursuit through worldwide collaboration of scientists at a cost of about US $ 75 millions. It would help improve global food security by allowing faster wheat breeding for climate resilient varieties with drought, heat and frost tolerance, disease resistance and superior quality. Itmay also help people suffering from allergy to wheat gluten.

India is the world’s second largest producer of wheat with an annual production of 98 million tons from acreage of 30 million hectares. However, with the global population projected to reach 9.6 billion by 2050, the world needs annual increase in wheat production by 1.6% to meet the growing demand on the face of shrinking land and water resources together with the stresses caused by global climate change.

The bread wheat has a highly complex hexaploid genome that is 40 times larger than the rice genome and 5 times larger than the human genome. The results published by the International Wheat Genome Sequencing Consortium (IWGSC) on Friday 17th August 2018 in the top international journal 'Science’, provides full details of the DNA sequence of 21 wheat chromosomes and represents the highest quality genome sequence generated to date for the bread wheat. The reference genome has 94% genome coverage (1,45,000 lakh base pair letters) of the wheat genome and predicts 1,07,981 protein coding genes. India was charged with the responsibility of sequencing chromosome 2A, representing about 5% of the wheat genome.

While breeders of other major crops have benefited with the availability of reference genome sequence, e.g. rice (2005), soybean (2008), Maize (2009) and tomato (2012), wheat scientists were handicapped lacked this crucial information due to huge size of the wheat genome. The genomes of rice, tomato, soybean and maize have made huge impact globally on the development of new varieties.

The information generated will help identify genes controlling complex agronomic traits such as yield, grain quality, resistance to diseases and pests, tolerance to drought, heat, frost, waterlogging and salinity. For example scientists describe in this paper a gene that makes depending on it copy number the wheat stem hollow or solid resulting in drought and pest resistance. It will also help precise genome editing in wheat using latest CRISPR-Cas9 technology. The availability of high-quality reference genome would accelerate the breeding of climate-resilient wheat varieties to feed the ever-increasing world population and help address global food security in the decades to come.

The Indian team of was led by Prof. Nagendra Kumar Singh from ICAR-NRCPB, Dr. Kuldeep Singh from PAU and Prof. J. P. Khurana from DU. India joined the IWGSC in December 2010 with project funding support from Department of Biotechnology, Government of India.

Source:ICAR-National Research Centre on Plant Biotechnology, New Delhi

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