John Innes Centre wheat genetics research has benefits
The contribution of John Innes Centre scientists to improving one of the world major crops highlights the impact of publicly-funded fundamental research decades ago on people’s lives today – and shows the benefit of today’s research for future generations.
“Wheat genetics research in the UK”, published by the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC), describes a shift in overall wheat production in the UK of 2.5 tonnes per hectare in 1940 to more than 8 tonnes per hectare today.
The report explains that JIC scientists’ understanding and application of the complex genetics of wheat, the subsequent development of new varieties and the introduction of better farming practices has either directly or indirectly led to most of the major advances in production in the UK.
Wheat makes up 20% of the calories consumed by people across the world – with predicted rise in population from 6billion people today to 9billion by 2050, changing land use and adaptation to climate change, increasing wheat yields are seen as key areas by both the John Innes Centre and BBSRC which provides strategic funding to the institute.
The report describes BBSRC-funded research carried out by JIC senior scientist Professor Graham Moore (pictured) on ‘synteny’ – being able to identify a gene in an organism with a large genome such as wheat by first locating it in an organism with a smaller one, like rice. As the rice genome is smaller than that of wheat, it is quicker to identify a gene in rice and look for the same gene in wheat than it is to first examine the larger wheat genome.
Prof Moore demonstrated synteny between rice and wheat 20 years ago, using the early genetic maps of wheat developed by JIC colleague Professor Mike Gale and Japanese collaborators working on rice.
A decade earlier, Professor Dick Flavell, of the Plant Breeding Institute – which merged with the John Innes Institute and the Nitrogen Fixation Laboratory to form the John Innes Centre – became the first researcher anywhere in the world to clone plant DNA, which happened to be wheat DNA.
Thanks to Prof Moore’s research, synteny has been at the heart of wheat breeding and genetics research around the world – the identification of rust resistance in wheat, the discovery of wheat genes for high grain protein and the identification of wheat genes which determine a plant’s ability to flower in spring were all made possible due to synteny.