Scientists at the University of Liverpool are working to decode DNA modifications, known as ‘epigenetic marks’, in the wheat genome to understand its impact on crop variation. 

Leading an international consortium of scientists from Cold Spring harbor laboratory in the US, Helmholtz Zentrum Munich, Germany, and the John Innes Institute, UK, the Liverpool team will work with crop breeders to apply the findings to current national and international wheat breeding programmes. 

Liverpool scientists decoded the wheat genome in 2012, which has since enabled new levels of precision breeding for this globally important food source. 

Shaping genomes

Research has shown, however, that inherited crop variation can play a key role in shaping genomes and creating new varieties of plants. 

The aim of the £1.8 million project is to uncover how these variations, recorded in the epigenome of wheat, influences important traits like height, yield and flowering time. 

Professor Anthony Hall, from the University’s Institute of Integrative Biology, said: “We have recently developed highly efficient technologies for wheat that can uncover the epigenome in multiple wheat lines. 

“This provides an important opportunity to carry out fundamental biological research in a globally important food source.” 

The project is funded as part of the ERA-CAP programme, with support from the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC), the German Research Foundation, DFG, and National Science Foundation (NSF).