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Barley and Wheat Discovery Offers a Pathway to End Famine


Due to the increase in population, many people worry about food shortages. However, experts believe that wheat and barley can help feed the world.

An international team of scientists found a new genetic variation in wheat and barley, producing larger crops. Scientists from the Waite Research Institute at the University of Adelaide led the study, collaborating with researchers from around the world. Researchers from the 10+ Wheat Genomes Project and the International Barley Bread Genome Sequencing Consortium unlocked the new variation.

Led by Professor Curtis Pozniak from Canada and Professor Nils Stein from Germany, the team sequenced a set of genomes from both crops. Additionally, Professor Chengdao Li from Murdoch University in Perth, Australia, was very helpful with the sequencing of Australian barley. They published these findings on November 25, 2020, in the Nature magazine.

SScientists say this will lead to a new generation of barley and wheat productions. These two crops play an essential role in meeting the food demands of a constantly growing population. Both are easy-care species that grow even in harsh climates, so increasing production could help end global famine.

Wheat and barley are vital to feeding the world

“Wheat and barley are staple food crops around the world, but their production must increase dramatically to meet future food demands.”

So says Adelaide University Associate Professor Ken Chalmers, who collaborated with colleague from the School of Agriculture, Food and Wine, Professor Emeritus Peter Langridge. “It is estimated that wheat production alone must increase by more than 50% above current levels by 2050 to feed the growing world population.”

Recent research marks an important step in the discovery of the entire set of genes, or pangenomes, from the two crops. When scientists fully understand the genetic variation of cereals, they can accurately project future global production demands.

“Advances in genomics have accelerated improvement and improvement of yield and quality in crops such as rice and corn, but similar efforts in wheat and barley they have been more challenging, ”says Professor Langridge.

Why wheat and barley genome sequencing is more difficult

“This is largely due to the size and complexity of their genomes, our limited knowledge of the key genes that control performance, and the lack of genome assembly data for multiple lines of interest to breeders. Modern wheat and barley cultivars carry a wide range of genetic variants and diverse genomic structures that are associated with important traits such as higher yields, drought tolerance, and disease resistance.

“This variation cannot be captured with a single genome sequence. Only by sequencing multiple and diverse genomes can we begin to understand the full scope of genetic variation, the pangenome. “

So far, the international team has sequenced multiple types of wheat and barley varieties from all over the world. The Grain Research and Development Corporation (GRDC) supported the Adelaide component.

“The information generated through these collaborative projects has revealed the dynamics of the genome structure and previously hidden genetic variation of these important crops and has shown how breeders have achieved significant improvements in productivity. This work will support the delivery of the next generations of modern varieties, ”says associate professor Chalmers.

Genome sequencing included two Australian varieties of wheat, AGT-Mace (PBR) and Longreach-Lancer (PBR). Because the north and south areas were represented, the researchers can assess how the variations will accommodate both environments. The University of Adelaide also sequenced three barley varieties that had a high yield. They also had the ability to tolerate heat, frost, salinity, drought, and new diseases.

“These sets of genomes will drive the discovery of functional genes and equip researchers and breeders with the tools necessary to bring the next generation of modern wheat and barley cultivars that will help meet future food demands,” says Associate Professor Ken. Chalmers.

Wheat and barley production around the world

Cereals are precious for animal and human consumption as they can be stored for long periods. They can also be easily transported long distances and are widely used to process flour, oil and gas. For thousands of years, humans have harvested various cereals and they remain a staple in our diet today. Corn still leads the way in grain production, with more than 1.11 billion metric tons harvested in 2018-2019.

However, wheat comes in second with 765 million metric tons, with the majority coming from Europe, China, India and Russia. Is he the most vital grain in the world based on acres used, and nearly every state in the US produces the crop. The main states involved in the production include North Dakota, Kansas and Montana. Wheat makes its way into many different products, such as soups, bread, cookies, all-purpose flour, and pasta.

In 2019-2020, barley production around the world amounted to 156.41 million metric tons. We normally see barley in bread, cereals, soups, beer, and animal feed. As one of the first grains grown by early humans, it can thrive in various climates. In 2017, the first three barley producing states in the US they were Idaho, Montana and North Dakota.

Its origins date back to ancient Mesopotamia and Egypt. However, barley is one of the most adaptable cereals and grows in climates ranging from subarctic to subtropical. In modern times, most of the barley production takes place in Europe, Russia and Ukraine.

Interesting Facts About Wheat and Barley.

  • Wheat originated in the valley of the Tigris and Euphrates rivers, near present-day Iraq.
  • About 3/4 of all grain products in the US come from wheat flour.
  • Kansas produces enough wheat each year to bake 36 billion loaves of bread. This is enough to feed everyone in the world for about 2 weeks. An acre of Kansas wheat also produces enough bread to distribute to about 9,000 people for a day.
  • Barley was first domesticated around 10,000 years ago in the Fertile Crescent, a region of the Middle East.
  • Barley contains 8 essential amino acids, many B vitamins, and minerals such as magnesium, phosphorus, iron, and zinc.

Final thoughts on the discovery of new genetic variations in wheat and barley

In the next century, wheat and barley production will need to increase dramatically to feed the world. Scientists have captured more genome sequences from both crops, which will help create the next generation of wheat and barley. Now that they have a better understanding of these grains, they can better estimate world demand in the future. So we still see hope in ending world famine using the latest science.


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