JUST two years after the bread wheat genome was finally mapped for the first time, a crack team of international scientists, including researchers from the University of Western Australia, have sequenced and analysed the genomes of 16 key wheat varieties from around the globe.
The research, including varieties that represent different breeding programs from around the world, provides the most comprehensive atlas of wheat genome sequences reported to date.
The genomic study, published in Nature Journal by the University of Saskatchewan, involved an international effort by more than 90 scientists from universities and institutes in Australia, Canada, Switzerland, Germany, Japan, the U.K., Saudi Arabia, Mexico, Israel, and the U.S.
Two UWA researchers, Ian Small and Joanne Melonek, from the ARC Centre of Excellence in Plant Energy Biology and the UWA School of Molecular Sciences contributed to the study through their globally recognised expertise in a family of genes known as Restorer-of-fertility-like (Rfl).
These genes have valuable applications in wheat hybrid breeding programs.
In spite of hybrids being a staple for many crop species, such as corn and soybeans and locally, in canola, wheat hybrids remain rare.
"Wheat hybrids account for a fraction of wheat plants grown globally, despite the promise of higher yields and better tolerance of diseases and environmental challenges," Professor Small said.
He said the difficulties breeding with the complex wheat plant meant hybrids were hard to produce on a commercial scale.
"The lack of fertility control systems that would be practical and affordable on an industrial scale is a major limitation in the development of hybrid varieties for self-pollinating crops like wheat."
The research breakthrough comes at a critical time as world wheat industry leaders look to try and increase production by 50 per cent by 2050 to meet rising demand.
Breeders will benefit from the genome maps, which will help them improve crop yield, quality and pest resistance.
Dr Melonek said the analysis of the Rfl gene family as a source of fertility-restorer genes would be important to accelerate hybrid-breeding programs, which, if successful, would increase the production of wheat significantly.
"We knew from the first complete wheat genome reference published two years ago in Science that wheat had a remarkably high number of Rfl genes, but this new work exposes the high variation among the family members between different wheat varieties," Dr Melonek said.