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British/French research partnership in wheat genetics brings new hopes for global food security

Scientists at the John Innes Centre (JIC) (1), Norwich, UK1 and the INRA (Institut National de Recherche Agronomique) at Evry, France(2) have today announced the creation of the largest library of genetic resources, for the study of wheat, in the world. The two scientific teams have exchanged so-called BAC libraries(3) that when combined together, represent the entire genome(4) of wheat. The research material in the libraries, and associated information, is freely available to academic and industrial scientists all over the globe and is the largest and most important resource of its kind for wheat researchers around the world.

“Wheat is tremendously important” says Dr Graham Moore (project leader at the JIC), “it is a staple crop for a large proportion of the world’s population as well as the most important crop in North European agriculture. Unfortunately, the genome of wheat is very complex and that makes both studying its biology and using genetics to improve the quality of the crop, very difficult. The comprehensive genetic libraries that we are making available will help scientists and breeders who are seeking to improve the performance of wheat in agricultural systems around the world”.

The genome of wheat is 5x larger than that of humans and includes a total of 150,000 genes. The BAC libraries are collections of fragments of the wheat genome. Each fragment on average carries 1 or 2 genes and in total there are over 1.2 million fragments in the libraries. After years of work, exchange visits between laboratories and at a cost of millions of Euros, the combined efforts of British and French researchers have reduced the complex genetics of wheat to two large freezers full of tiny test-tubes. Pooling the British and French research efforts has had two major benefits. Firstly, it has dramatically shortened the time taken to produce a complete gene library. Secondly, it has resulted in several slightly different libraries, providing the researchers with some additional information not available from a single library.

“The USA would like a copy of the British/French library and China, Japan, and Australia have expressed interest in using it” says Dr Boulos Chalhoub (project leader at INRA). “This shows just how valuable a resource we have developed and in time we expect to see these libraries helping researchers and breeders in their continuing pursuit of both global food security and environmentally sustainable agriculture. We would like to see this collaboration set the pattern for the future, with major international cooperative efforts on a wide variety of crops, developing genetic resources that are openly accessible to academic and commercial organisations”.

Professor Julia Goodfellow (Chief Executive of the BBSRC(5)) said "this is an excellent example of the importance of publicly funded research and international collaboration in making the benefits of life science research available to society. The BBSRC(6) has contributed over £1million to the project through its ’’Investigating Gene Function Initiative’’ an investment

Ray Mathias | alfa

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