In 2006, plant researchers successfully mapped the genome of rice, the first crop to be sequenced. Today, the list of plants that have had their whole genomes mapped is extensive – from algae to papaya to almonds.
In an article for Wired, Megan Molteni reports that wheat, a key commodity crop, is the latest plant to have its genome fully mapped.
In a Science report published Thursday, an international team of more than 200 researchers presents the first high-quality, complete sequence of the bread wheat genome.
This is significant. As Molteni goes on to write:
For a staple crop that feeds a third of the world’s population it’s a milestone that may be on par with the day its domestication began 9,000 years ago.
Researchers and plant breeders rely on a plant’s genome to map traits to a specific gene. From this, plant geneticists can edit the genes of the plant to exhibit desired traits, such as disease resistance. Thus, mapping plants’ genomes has led to innovations in agriculture that are allowing farmers to grow crops and produce food sustainably.
And in the case of wheat, mapping the stable crop’s genome will allow biotech companies to edit the crop’s genes and enhance uber popular foods like bread.
“Bread is the heart of the meal,” says Dan Voytas, a fellow University of Minnesota plant scientist, and the co-founder of gene-editing agricultural company, Calyxt. “It’s kind of sacred, in the public perception.” Calyxt is among a bumper crop of start-ups racing to bring the first gene-edited products to market; it’s growing a new high-fiber wheat in its sealed greenhouses.
One day, possibly in the not too distance future, those sensitive to gluten may finally get to enjoy bread – featuring reduced-gluten wheat – thanks to the fully mapped genome of this staple crop.
Read the full Wired piece, here.