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£1.7million to sequence wheat genome

Press release issued: 11 February 2009

An extensive genetic analysis of the wheat genome will be carried out by researchers at Bristol University thanks to a £1.7million grant from the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC).

Keith Edwards, Professor of Cereal Functional Genomics and Dr Gary Barker, Research Fellow in Bristol’s School of Biological Sciences will collaborate with researchers at the University of Liverpool and the John Innes Centre to sequence the wheat genome which is five times larger than the human genome.

The award will enable the researchers to identify, using new DNA sequencing technologies, genetic differences between the UK's main wheat varieties.

The project will also pave the way for comprehensive sequencing of the bread wheat genome by exploring the application of new sequencing technologies and analysis methods.

The wheat genome is five times larger than the human genome and is composed of three essentially separate yet closely related genomes.  It therefore represents a major challenge in genome sequencing and analysis.

However, because it is one of the world’s most important food crops, accessing sequence variation that underlies yield differences and tolerance of environmental stresses is a very high priority.  The development of new sequencing technologies that generate very large amounts of accurate sequence provides an opportunity to identify sequence differences in different wheat varieties. 

The researchers will generate sequence from a standard lab strain of wheat and from four varieties that provide a wide range of genetic variation used by UK breeders.

Professor Edwards said: “The project will deliver new ways for plant breeders to efficiently identify genetic differences in wheat.  This will dramatically increase the efficiency of breeding new varieties and identifying regions of the genome that carry key traits such as disease resistance, improved quality and yield.”

This £1.7million award follows on from three recent awards amounting to £1.3 million given to Professor Edwards and Dr Barker by the BBSRC for work relating to the exploitation of new technologies to enhance our understanding of the wheat genome and apply the results to wheat breeding.

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