Milestone in wheat genome research
A more complete and accurate wheat genome assembly is available to researchers today. This landmark resource builds on international efforts in this area and will help wheat breeders accelerate their crop improvement programmes and researchers to discover genes for key traits such as yield, nutrient use and bread making quality. As wheat is one of the world’s most vital crops, the new genomics resources will help secure future food supplies.
The wheat genome is now assembled into fewer and much larger chunks of DNA and covers regions that previous assemblies did not reach, such as complicated highly repetitive regions that form about 80 per cent of the DNA sequences.
Ksenia Krasileva, Group Leader at TGAC and TSL, who conducted an initial assessment of the assemblies, said: “One of the most complex and large groups of genes in wheat are those that contribute to the nutritional and bread-making quality of the grain. These are all present in complete copies in the genome, suggesting other hard-to-assemble genes are also accurately represented.”
Reaching this milestone has been a major UK-based effort to identify and understand wheat genes and develop insights into the links between them to aid breeding programmes.
In this latest development, billions of bases needed to be sequenced and the assembly (a gigantic jigsaw puzzle using billions of pieces that are very similar to each other) took three weeks to complete on one of the UK’s largest supercomputers, which was specially configured for work on wheat.
Mike Bevan, Deputy Director of the John Innes Centre (JIC) and Co-Principal Investigator on the grant, said: “The capacity to sequence and assemble many wheat genomes efficiently breaks down major barriers to wheat crop improvement. We will now be able to exploit genetic variation from ancestral wheat varieties for crop improvement in new ways.”
Matt Clark, Group Leader at The Genome Analysis Centre TGAC and Co-Principal Investigator, who led the sequencing work, said: “Wheat has a very large and complex genome made by the hybridisation of three closely related grasses, each of which has a large genome itself. It has been a complex problem that has confounded scientists for several years.”
To assemble the wheat genome, Bernardo Clavijo, Algorithms Research and Development Team Leader at TGAC, made major modifications to a software, called DISCOVAR, developed by the Broad Institute, Cambridge US, (previously used for specialist applications in human genome assembly) in a collaboration established by Federica Di Palma, Director of Science of TGAC and Visiting Scientist at the Broad Institute. In order to ensure all the complexity of the DNA sequence was preserved during assembly, he made a series of major overhauls to the software: “We centred our approach on achieving maximal coverage of the genome, by distinguishing repeats. We were very careful to use newly generated high quality input data.”
These advances now mean the software can assemble several wheat genomes with high speed and great precision. This sets the stage for rapidly generating useful assemblies of many varieties of wheat, which is an essential step for breeding and research.
Steve Visscher, Deputy Chief Executive of the Biotechnology and Biosciences Research Council (BBSRC), who funded the project, said: “BBSRC is delighted to have supported this work, which has made an important contribution to the G20-sponsored international Wheat Initiative. Many research groups are contributing to the global research effort to develop a fully assembled and aligned wheat genome sequence to access, understand and apply the richness of wheat genetic diversity to increase wheat yield, improve wheat’s tolerance to stresses, pathogens and pests, and improve the sustainability wheat production. It is fitting that this important step in unravelling the complex wheat genome, which is five times the size of the human genome, has adapted specialist software developed for the human genome assembly.”
The early release of the data as a new resource for the world wheat researchers and breeders reflects the Wheat Initiative’s founding principles of sharing data and seeking synergy through collaboration to help tackle the global grand challenge of feeding a population of nearly 10 billion by 2050. The data will be available for sequence searches (via BLAST) at TGAC’s Grassroot Genomics platform from November 12 2015. The full data set, with genes identified, will be publicly available from the European Bioinformatics Institute’s (EBI) Ensembl database at the end of 2015. This is a key milestone in the BBSRC funded research project “Triticeae Genomics for Sustainable Agriculture” in collaboration with TGAC, JIC, the European Bioinformatics Institute and Rothamsted Research.
BLAST sequence searches will be available from 12 November 2015 at http://www.tgac.ac.uk/grassroots-genomics/.
Notes to Editors
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The Genome Analysis Centre (TGAC) is a world-class research institute focusing on the development of genomics and computational biology. TGAC is based within the Norwich Research Park and receives strategic funding from the Biotechnology and Biological Science Research Council (BBSRC) – £7.4M in 2013/14 – as well as support from other research funders. TGAC is one of eight institutes that receive strategic funding from BBSRC. TGAC operates a National Capability to promote the application of genomics and bioinformatics to advance bioscience research and innovation.
TGAC offers state of the art DNA sequencing facility, unique by its operation of multiple complementary technologies for data generation. The Institute is a UK hub for innovative Bioinformatics through research, analysis and interpretation of multiple, complex data sets. It hosts one of the largest computing hardware facilities dedicated to life science research in Europe. It is also actively involved in developing novel platforms to provide access to computational tools and processing capacity for multiple academic and industrial users and promoting applications of computational Bioscience. Additionally, the Institute offers a Training programme through courses and workshops, and an Outreach programme targeting schools, teachers and the general public through dialogue and science communication activities. www.tgac.ac.uk
The Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC) invests in world-class bioscience research and training on behalf of the UK public. Our aim is to further scientific knowledge, to promote economic growth, wealth and job creation and to improve quality of life in the UK and beyond.
Funded by Government, BBSRC invested over £509M in world-class bioscience in 2014-15 and is the leading funder of wheat research in the UK (over £100M investment on UK wheat research in the last 10 years). We support research and training in universities and strategically funded institutes. BBSRC research and the people we fund are helping society to meet major challenges, including food security, green energy and healthier, longer lives. Our investments underpin important UK economic sectors, such as farming, food, industrial biotechnology and pharmaceuticals.
For more information about BBSRC, our science and our impact see: http://www.bbsrc.ac.uk For more information about BBSRC strategically funded institutes see: http://www.bbsrc.ac.uk/institutes
About the John Innes Centre
Our mission is to generate knowledge of plants and microbes through innovative research, to train scientists for the future, to apply our knowledge of nature’s diversity to benefit agriculture, the environment, human health and wellbeing, and engage with policy makers and the public.
To achieve these goals we establish pioneering long-term research objectives in plant and microbial science, with a focus on genetics. These objectives include promoting the translation of research through partnerships to develop improved crops and to make new products from microbes and plants for human health and other applications. We also create new approaches, technologies and resources that enable research advances and help industry to make new products. The knowledge, resources and trained researchers we generate help global societies address important challenges including providing sufficient and affordable food, making new products for human health and industrial applications, and developing sustainable bio-based manufacturing. This provides a fertile environment for training the next generation of plant and microbial scientists, many of whom go on to careers in industry and academia, around the world.
The John Innes Centre is strategically funded by the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC). In 2014-2015 the John Innes Centre received a total of £36.9 million from the BBSRC.
About The Sainsbury Laboratory
The Sainsbury Laboratory (TSL) is a world-leading research centre focusing on making fundamental discoveries about plants and how they interact with microbes. TSL not only provides fundamental biological insights into plant-pathogen interactions, but is also delivering novel, genomics-based, solutions which will significantly reduce losses from major diseases of food crops, especially in developing countries. TSL is an independent charitable company and receives strategic funding from the Gatsby Charitable Foundation with the balance coming from competitive grants and contracts from a range of public and private bodies, including the European Union (EU), Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC) and commercial and charitable organisations www.tsl.ac.uk