World Grain - October 2020 - 6

GUEST EDITORIAL

Wheat genome opens
door for innovation

I

n the summer of 2010, a professor in
the United Kingdom declared the sequencing of the wheat genome had
been completed. Five times larger than
the human genome (which had been decoded in 2003), the wheat genome is both
vast and complex, making the sequencing
a monumental achievement.
It turned out to be a false start. The UK
scientists were celebrating early progress
LQWKHVHTXHQFLQJH൵RUWDQGWKHLUZRUGV
had been misinterpreted widely by the
media. In fact, a rough draft of the wheat
genome was published in 2014, and the
International Wheat Genome Sequencing
Consortium (IWGSC) published a highquality sequence of the wheat genome
in 2018. The sequence provides a crucial frame of reference for scientists and
breeders seeking to understand the precise genetic location responsible for the
expression of desirable or unwanted traits.
Even while helping fund scientists' efforts, the milling and baking industries
have kept an arm's-length distance from
the work of the wheat genome researchers.
Bikram S. Gill, a professor at Kansas State
University in Manhattan, Kansas, US, involved in the wheat genome research, has
presented to the Wheat Quality Council,
but more often breeders have served as intermediaries between the researchers and
the grain-based foods sector.
As a result, many in the industry have
little idea what kind of work continues to
be done by the IWGSC. Progress to date
HOHYDWHVFRQ¿GHQFHLQZKDWPD\EHSRVsible. For example, scientists have begun
sequencing a set of "elite" varieties, 12 or
13 of the varieties considered foundational
to many of the varieties in circulation today. The purpose will be to provide even
better references for genomic studies, faFLOLWDWLQJLGHQWL¿FDWLRQDQGSUHVHUYDWLRQRI
traits considered most desirable and then
strengthening the diversity of the wheat
with other genetic material. Researchers
also will look back at ancient landraces,
6

varieties that are thousands of years old,
and scavenge them for desirable traits.
Under the leadership of Kellye Eversole, the IWGSC published preliminary
UHVHDUFK ¿QGLQJV VWHDGLO\ RYHU WKH ODVW
10 years, information breeders said has
proven valuable and paid dividends in
numerous ways. As a modest example of
how the technology is presently used, a
breeder said excessive heat has kept stripe
rust at bay in Colorado this summer. The
high temperatures meant that worsened
the condition of the crop and meant breeders had no way to check their test plots for
rust resistance. DNA sequencing and the
reference sequence allow breeders to con¿UPZKLFKFXOWLYDUVDUHUHVLVWDQWUHJDUGless of whether rust damages the sample.
%H\RQG PDNLQJ WKHLU ZRUN H൶FLHQW
breeders are hopeful improvements in
yield and quality will make production
PRUH SUR¿WDEOH IRU ZKHDW JURZHUV HQticing them to continue planting the crop
rather than pursuing alternatives. For
millers and bakers, breeders believe the
advancing technology will result in varieties with more consistent end use qualities.
While public breeders focus on developing varieties suitable for large commodity
production, public and private breeders
are believed to be developing wheat with
niche and perhaps more futuristic traits.
Many of the more exciting projects associated with sequencing the wheat genome are still in the toddler stages. More
important than ever is
minimizing or eliminatLQJWKHWUDGHR൵EHWZHHQ
yield and quality. Milling and baking have
a tremendous stake in
what comes from this
research and have every reason to take a
VHDWDWWKHWDEOHLQWKLVH[FLWLQJH൵RUW
Josh Sosland
Editor of Milling & Baking News, sister
publication of World Grain.

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WORLD GRAIN (ISSN 0745-8991) Volume 38, issue 10,

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October 2020 / World Grain / www.World-Grain.com


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World Grain - October 2020

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