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Breakthrough to ‘revolutionise' food production

Hasan Suroor

Genetic sequence of wheat decoded

LONDON: In what is being hailed as the most significant breakthrough in agricultural science since the “Green Revolution,” a team of British scientists has decoded the genetic sequence of wheat — claimed to be the largest genome sequenced to-date — raising the prospects of bigger and faster disease-resistant crops to meet the looming global food shortage.

The achievement by scientists from the universities of Liverpool and Bristol and the John Innes Centre in Norwich would “revolutionise” wheat production, leading to greater food security and lower prices, experts behind the research claimed.

“We have delivered most of the sequences necessary for plant breeders to identify genetic differences in wheat. The data will dramatically increase the efficiency of breeding new crop varieties,” said Keith Edwards of the University of Bristol.

Researchers said farmers were expected to start producing higher yields of disease resistant crops within five years.

“The information we have collected will be invaluable in tackling global food shortage. We are now working to analyse the sequence to highlight natural genetic variation between wheat types, which will help significantly speed up current breeding programmes,” the University of Liverpool said in a statement.

Scientists said it would now be possible to identify genes which controlled important agricultural characteristics. “Using this new DNA data, we will identify variation in gene networks involved in important agricultural traits such as disease resistance, drought tolerance and yield,'' said Anthony Hall, a member of the research team.

The data, a version of which would be placed online so that farmers around the world could have immediate access to it, would help to “accelerate the speed and accuracy of plant-breeding,” Professor Mike Bevan of the John Innes Centre told The Times pointing out that while the genomes of rice and maize had already been sequenced, contributing to vastly improved breeding, wheat had so far proved harder to sequence because its genome was “vast and highly complex.”

Universities and Science Minister David Willets said the new advance would help to produce crops that could “thrive in challenging conditions'' at a time when the world was facing the prospect of food shortages.

David Kell, chief executive of the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council, which gave a £1.7-million grant for the project, described the breakthrough as a boon to the world food system.

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