Back to the future

By Country News

Agriculture Victoria scientists have traced the genetic origins of bread wheat back to 8000 BC in research that could help safeguard this key global food crop against climate change.

The world-first research, published in Nature Genetics, used genome-wide data to track historical gene flow from wild emmer, a founding wheat ancestor.

The resulting 10000-year-old genome-level family tree provides the foundation for faster and more accurate development of wheat varieties suited to a changing climate.

Agriculture Victoria scientist Matthew Hayden said the development of more resilient wheat varieties would be vital to offset projected production declines due to increasingly hot and dry conditions predicted for eastern Australia.

‘‘This research enables wheat breeders to accelerate precision breeding of wheat varieties that are better adapted to a changed climate, which is critical to the future success of the grains industry,’’ Dr Hayden said.

‘‘We can now pinpoint, with an extremely high level of confidence, areas of the wheat genome that affect climate-related traits such as heat tolerance, water use and fertiliser use.

‘‘Researchers and breeders can use this information to develop new bread wheat varieties with more adaptive genes and improved heat stress tolerance, water use efficiency and nutrient use efficiency.’’

Agriculture Victoria scientists have now overlaid the wheat genome sequence with genetic data from almost 900 wheat varieties, representing worldwide wheat diversity, to generate a comprehensive 3.5million-point genetic roadmap that shows the history of wheat domestication, adaptive evolution and crop improvement.