An international research team of scientists has identified genes related to 50 traits in bread wheat, including those responsible for high yields and stress tolerance1. Wheat breeders can use this knowledge to grow stress-tolerant and high-yielding varieties even in drought-prone regions.
Wheat, the staple food for more than 2.5 billion people globally, contributes substantially to food security by providing 20% of dietary calories and protein. However, diseases and environmental stresses such as drought and heat severely reduce wheat yields.
To deal with such challenges, the researchers, including a scientist from the Borlaug Institute for South Asia in New Delhi, India mapped the genomes of 44,624 wheat lines from South Asia, Africa and the Americas.
They specifically looked for marker genes related to grain yield and disease resistance in irrigated environments of India, Bangladesh, Afghanistan, Mexico, Sudan and Morocco. They narrowed their search down to 27 genomic regions that contain genes resistant to diseases such as stem rust, spot blotch, wheat blast and yellow rust.
They also identified 31 genomic regions that harbour genes associated with grain yield. Such regions, they say, could potentially confer grain yield stability across diverse environments. Notable among these genes is the one related to heat-stress tolerance.
The researchers also identified the genomic regions that contribute to flour protein content, flour yield, grain colour, grain hardness, grain protein content and loaf volume – characteristics that could enhance the quality of bread.
1. Juliana, P. et al. Improving grain yield, stress resilience and quality of bread wheat using large-scale genomics. Nat. Genet. (2019) doi: 10.1038/s41588-019-0496-6