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Systems Biology

Wild emmer genome sequence completely decoded for the first time

An international research team including scientists from the Helmholtz Zentrum München has decoded the genome sequence of the wild emmer for the first time. The results have now been published in the renowned Science journal. They could contribute to the cultivation of more resistant wheat varieties.

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Wild emmer (Triticum dicoccum) is the progenitor species of almost all cultivated wheat varieties and one of the oldest cultivated plants in the world. Because of its fragile heads, it has almost no significance in agriculture at this time, but it has individual characteristics that are very interesting with regard to cultivating improved wheat varieties*.

The research paper was the result of an international cooperation with scientists from various research institutions. In close cooperation with Dr. Assaf Distelfeld, a plant scientist from Tel Aviv University in Israel, Dr. Sven Twardziok and Dr. Heidrun Gundlach, both from the Plant Genome and Systems Biology (PGSB) Research Unit at the Helmholtz Zentrum München, decoded the entire emmer genome. This is three times larger than the human genome.

“This information regarding the genome will be able to make a substantial contribution to securing the global food supply in the future,” says Dr. Klaus Mayer, PGSB head. Wheat accounts for roughly 20 percent of the calories consumed globally and consequently plays a key role in world nutrition. More resistant varieties based on genetic elements from emmer would be advantageous.

“In addition, insights into wheat’s more than ten thousand years of domestication and purposeful, improved cultivation for stress resistance and increased yield are now possible,” adds Dr. Manuel Spannagl, research associate at the PGSB.

Further Information

Avni R et. al  (2017):  Wild emmer genome architecture and diversity elucidate wheat evolution and domestication. Science doi: 10.1126/science.aan0032

*Wild emmer does not make any particular demands on the soil conditions and it is productive in poor soils. It is also characterized by resistance to diseases, and it copes with dry periods substantially better than conventional wheats.

As German Research Center for Environmental Health, Helmholtz Zentrum München pursues the goal of developing personalized medical approaches for the prevention and therapy of major common diseases such as diabetes mellitus, allergies and lung diseases. To achieve this, it investigates the interaction of genetics, environmental factors and lifestyle. The Helmholtz Zentrum München has about 2,500 staff members and is headquartered in Neuherberg in the north of Munich. Helmholtz Zentrum München is a member of the Helmholtz Association, a community of 19 scientific-technical and medical-biological research centers with a total of about 37,000 staff members. 

The Research Unit Plant Genome and Systems Biology (PGSB) focuses on the analysis of plant genomes, using bioinformatic techniques. To store and manage the data, we developed a database, PlantsDB, that aims to provide a data and information resource for individual plant species. In addition PlantsDB provides a platform for integrative and comparative plant genome research. 

Tel Aviv Universität (TAU) is recognized internationally for creating an innovative, entrepreneurial culture on campus that generates inventions, startups and economic development in Israel. For three years in a row, TAU ranked 9th in the world, and first in Israel, for alumni going on to become successful entrepreneurs. To date, 2,400 patents have been filed out of the University, making TAU 29th in the world for patents among academic institutions.