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Systems biology

Optimizing wheat cultivation – by comparing genomes with natural ancestors

With substantial participation by the Helmholtz Zentrum München, an international team of scientists has decoded the complex genome sequence of goatgrass (Aegilops tauschii), an ancestor of common wheat. The work has now been published in the 'Nature' journal. The findings lay the foundation for targeted breeding and consequently improved wheat quality, as well as increased adaptability of modern wheat varieties to climatic conditions.

Source: ktsdesign - Fotolia

Goatgrass is an ancestor of the modern common wheat and contributes important characteristics with regard to bread-baking quality and resistance to it. With the high quality genome sequence now available,   selective cultivation is significantly simplified, as the genomic basis of important characteristics is accessible now.

"The now completely decoded genome of Aegilops tauschii serves as a reference for the analysis of the genomic changes in cultivated wheat since its origin," says Prof. Dr. Klaus Mayer, head of the Plant Genome and Systems Biology Research Unit (PGSB) at the Helmholtz Zentrum München and honorary professor at Technische Universität München School of Life Sciences Weihenstephan. "The structure and evolution of such a complex cereal genome compared to domesticated varieties have a direct influence on the cultivation and adaptation of the plants to changing environmental conditions."

Diploid* Aegilops tauschii has a complex genome that is not easy to decipher. "The decoding and comparative analysis with common wheat called for specialized tools and special know-how, which we have meanwhile acquired here," reports Dr. Manual Spannagl (PGSB). For example, these include high performance software and computing  as well as analysis strategies that are adapted to the complex cereal genomes. "With the full genome sequence of Aegilops tauschii, we have now acquired detailed insights and found astonishing dynamism that points to accelerated evolution of the species," adds Sven Twardziok (PGSB).

Further Information

*In a diploid organism, there are two complete sets of chromosomes.

Luo, M.-C. (2017); Genome sequence of the progenitor of the wheat D genome Aegilops tauschii. Nature DOI: 10.1038/nature24486

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. 

The Technical University of Munich (TUM) is one of Europe’s leading research universities, with around 550 professors, 41,000 students, and 10,000 academic and non-academic staff. Its focus areas are the engineering sciences, natural sciences, life sciences and medicine, combined with economic and social sciences. TUM acts as an entrepreneurial university that promotes talents and creates value for society. In that it profits from having strong partners in science and industry. It is represented worldwide with the TUM Asia campus in Singapore as well as offices in Beijing, Brussels, Cairo, Mumbai, San Francisco, and São Paulo. Nobel Prize winners and inventors such as Rudolf Diesel, Carl von Linde, and Rudolf Mößbauer have done research at TUM. In 2006 and 2012 it won recognition as a German "Excellence University." In international rankings, TUM regularly places among the best universities in Germany.