Usask crop sci­en­tists help crack the du­rum wheat genome

New genome se­quence will con­trib­ute to global food safety and se­cu­rity

The Southwest Booster - - MARKET PLACE - SUB­MIT­TED

Univer­sity of Saskatchew­an (Usask) re­searchers played a key role in an in­ter­na­tional con­sor­tium that has se­quenced the en­tire genome of du­rum wheat—the source of semolina for pasta, a food sta­ple for the world’s pop­u­la­tion, ac­cord­ing to an ar­ti­cle pub­lished to­day in Na­ture Ge­net­ics.

“This ground-break­ing work will lead to new stan­dards for du­rum breed­ing and safety of du­rum-de­rived prod­ucts, paving the way for pro­duc­tion of du­rum wheat va­ri­eties bet­ter adapted to cli­mate chal­lenges, with higher yields, en­hanced nutri­tional qual­ity, and im­proved sus­tain­abil­ity,” said Luigi Cat­tiv­elli of Italy’s Coun­cil for Agri­cul­tural Re­search and Eco­nom­ics (CREA).

In an ex­cit­ing dis­cov­ery, Usask plant breeder Cur­tis Poz­niak, along with Univer­sity of Al­berta sci­en­tists Gre­gory Tay­lor and Neil Har­ris, iden­ti­fied the gene in du­rum wheat re­spon­si­ble for ac­cu­mu­la­tion of cad­mium, a toxic heavy metal found in many soils. The Usask team dis­cov­ered how to sig­nif­i­cantly re­duce cad­mium lev­els in du­rum grain, en­sur­ing the safety and nutri­tional value of the grain through se­lec­tive breed­ing.

The du­rum wheat genome is four times as large as the hu­man genome. The team has for the first time as­sem­bled the com­plete genome of the high-qual­ity Svevo va­ri­ety.

“We can now ex­am­ine the genes, their or­der and struc­ture to as­sem­ble a blueprint that will pro­vide an op­por­tu­nity to un­der­stand how the genes work and com­mu­ni­cate with one another,” said Poz­niak. “With this blueprint, we can now work quickly to iden­tify genes that are re­spon­si­ble for the traits we se­lect for in our breed­ing pro­grams such as yield, dis­ease re­sis­tance, and nutri­tional prop­er­ties.”

The re­search in­volved more than 60 sci­en­tists from seven coun­tries. The work was co­or­di­nated by Cat­tiv­elli and in­cluded cor­re­spond­ing au­thors Poz­niak of Usask and Klaus Mayer of the Helmholtz Zen­trum München (Ger­many), as well as re­searchers Aldo Ce­ri­otti and Lu­ciano Mi­lanesi of Italy’s na­tional re­search coun­cil CNR and Roberto Tuberosa of the Univer­sity of Bologna (Italy).

Du­rum wheat is mainly cul­ti­vated in Canada, Europe, United States, and South Asia, and re­mains a key crop for small farms in North and East Africa, as well as the Mid­dle East.

“This is an ex­cit­ing de­vel­op­ment for du­rum farm­ers as it will mean wheat breed­ers will be able to pro­duce va­ri­eties with im­proved yields and re­sis­tance to dis­ease, pests, and en­vi­ron­men­tal stres­sors quicker than be­fore,” said Laura Reiter, Chair of the Saskatchew­an Wheat De­vel­op­ment Com­mis­sion board of direc­tors, who farms near Radis­son, Saskatchew­an.

“The in­vest­ment in this re­search on be­half of Saskatchew­an du­rum farm­ers is ex­pected to lead to pro­duc­tiv­ity gains and will al­low them to cap­ture op­por­tu­ni­ties in mar­kets that de­sire the high­qual­ity grain that Saskatchew­an farm­ers pro­duce,” she said.

Du­rum wheat, mainly used as the raw ma­te­rial for pasta and cous­cous pro­duc­tion, evolved from wild em­mer wheat and was es­tab­lished as a prom­i­nent crop roughly 1,500 to 2,000 years ago in the Mediter­ranean area.

The sci­en­tists com­pared the du­rum wheat se­quence to its wild rel­a­tive and were able to re­veal genes that hu­mans have been se­lect­ing over the cen­turies. The team un­cov­ered a loss of ge­nomic di­ver­sity in du­rum wheat com­pared to its wild wheat rel­a­tive, and they’ve been able to map th­ese ar­eas of loss and pre­cisely re­cover ben­e­fi­cial genes lost dur­ing cen­turies of breed­ing.

“We can now see the dis­tinct DNA sig­na­tures that have been so crit­i­cal to the evo­lu­tion and breed­ing of du­rum wheat, en­abling us to un­der­stand which com­bi­na­tion of genes is driv­ing a par­tic­u­lar sig­na­ture and to main­tain those tar­get ar­eas of the genome for fu­ture breed­ing im­prove­ment,” said Marco Mac­ca­ferri, lead au­thor of the man­u­script.

As pasta is a sta­ple for the world’s pop­u­la­tion, in­dus­tries are ask­ing for more, safer, and higher-qual­ity du­rum wheat.

“Hav­ing this du­rum wheat high-qual­ity genome se­quence en­ables us to bet­ter un­der­stand the ge­net­ics of gluten pro­teins and the fac­tors that con­trol the nutri­tional prop­er­ties of semolina. This will help to im­prove pasta qual­ity traits,” said Ital­ian sci­en­tist Ce­ri­otti.

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