Optimizing wheat cultivation – by comparing genomes with natural ancestors

With substantial participation by a honorary professor at the TUM School of Life Sciences Weihenstephan, an international team of scientists has decoded the complex genome sequence of goatgrass (Aegilops tauschii), an ancestor of common wheat. The work has now been published in the 'Nature' journal. The findings lay the foundation for targeted breeding and consequently improved wheat quality, as well as increased adaptability of modern wheat varieties to climatic conditions.

The decoding of the complex genome sequence lay the foundation for targeted breeding and consequently improved wheat quality. (Photo: Uli Benz / TUM)

The decoding of the complex genome sequence lay the foundation for targeted breeding and consequently improved wheat quality. (Photo: Uli Benz / TUM)

Goatgrass is an ancestor of the modern common wheat and contributes important characteristics with regard to bread-baking quality and resistance to it. With the high quality genome sequence now available,   selective cultivation is significantly simplified, as the genomic basis of important characteristics is accessible now.

"The now completely decoded genome of Aegilops tauschii serves as a reference for the analysis of the genomic changes in cultivated wheat since its origin," says Prof. Klaus Mayer, head of the Plant Genome and Systems Biology Research Unit (PGSB) at the Helmholtz Zentrum München and honorary professor at Technische Universität München School of Life Sciences Weihenstephan. "The structure and evolution of such a complex cereal genome compared to domesticated varieties have a direct influence on the cultivation and adaptation of the plants to changing environmental conditions."

Diploid* Aegilops tauschii has a complex genome that is not easy to decipher. "The decoding and comparative analysis with common wheat called for specialized tools and special know-how, which we have meanwhile acquired here," reports Dr. Manual Spannagl (PGSB). For example, these include high performance software and computing  as well as analysis strategies that are adapted to the complex cereal genomes. "With the full genome sequence of Aegilops tauschii, we have now acquired detailed insights and found astonishing dynamism that points to accelerated evolution of the species," adds Sven Twardziok (PGSB).

Further Information
*In a diploid organism, there are two complete sets of chromosomes.


Publication:
Luo, M.-C. et.al (2017); Genome sequence of the progenitor of the wheat D genome Aegilops tauschii. Nature DOI: 10.1038/nature24486

Contact:

Prof. Klaus Mayer
Helmholtz Zentrum München
Abteilung Genomik und Systembiologie pflanzlicher Genome
k.mayer[at]helmholtz-muenchen.de