Genetic code of wheat has been broken thanks to Olomouc scientists

Na významném objevu se podílel mimo jiné i Jan Šafář.
Foto: Ota Blahoušek
monday 27. august 2018, 7:55 – Text: Martina Šaradínová

The genome of common wheat (or bread wheat), one of the most important agricultural crops, has been decoded. The International Consortium for Wheat Genome Sequencing (IWGSC) has written about the achievement of a highly accurate genome reference sequence in an article in the journal Science. An important role in this research has been played by Olomouc scientists of the Institute of Experimental Botany (IEB) of the Academy of Sciences, which is part of the Centre of the Region Haná for Biotechnological and Agricultural Research (CRH). The discovery will facilitate and streamline the process of breeding new wheat varieties with higher yields and greater resistance to adverse environmental conditions.

Decoding the hereditary information of wheat has long been considered impossible. The genome of this key crop for human nutrition is enormous, and the complexity of genetic information in wheat is five times greater than that of humans. It consists of three mutually similar subgenomes, and most of the genome consists of many repetitive DNA sequences. The research was based on the method of chromosome sorting using flow cytometry developed by Olomouc researchers, the only ones in the world to use it.

“This process has allowed us to divide large and complex genetic information into smaller parts – chromosomes, which greatly simplified DNA decoding and subsequent arrangement of the decoded sequences. Our laboratory thus supplied the DNA of individual chromosomes to collaborating laboratories in different parts of the world. We have obtained a very precise and very accurate ‘text’ of genetic information in wheat,” said Jaroslav Doležel, head of the Centre of Structural and Functional Plant Genomics at IEB and CRH Scientific Director. According to him, scientists now know the sequences of all 21 wheat chromosomes, the precise location of 107,891 genes and more than four million molecular markers.

Another benefit from Czech science was the preparation of BAC (Bacterial Artificial Chromosomes) libraries, thanks to which it was possible to read longer sections of the text of the genetic information. Olomouc scientists are the considered the best in the world in BAC libraries’ preparation and use. In special freezers they store up to 2.5 million clones of wheat DNA at a temperature of minus 80 degrees Celsius. Last but not least, the researchers successfully devoted themselves to the sequencing of three of 21 wheat chromosomes. Other methods, such as optical mapping, were involved in the project.

The importance of Olomouc researchers as well as their cooperation with foreign colleagues was appreciated by IEB Director Martin Vágner. “It was a gigantic task, involving roughly two hundred scientists from twenty countries. I am glad that our Olomouc workplace, which was one of the founding members of the international consortium in 2003, played a key role in the project. Their efforts and the importance of their work are extraordinary,” he added.

With in-depth knowledge of genetic information, breeders can now more quickly identify genes responsible for yield, grain quality, resistance to disease and pests, and genes crucial for better overcoming periods of drought. In the future, this achievement will be of great importance when using new genetic modification methods.