Ancient Wheat Could Safeguard Global Food Supply by Boosting Drought, Disease Resistance of Modern Strains
An international research team led by the University of Maryland (UMD) scientists has sequenced the complete genome for Einkorn wheat, the world's first domesticated crop. The team traced einkorn wheat's evolutionary history, a breakthrough that will help identify important genetic traits such as tolerance to diseases, droughtt, and heat, and reintroduce them to modern bread wheat.
Einkorn has been planted as early as 12,000 years ago, but as agriculture spread around the world, people replaced it with bread wheat. While bread wheat lost its natural resistance to drought, heat, and pests because of intensive cultivation and selection, einkorn maintained many of its resilient properties, with wild and domesticated varieties still in existence. A comparison of einkorn and bread wheat genomes allowed researchers to look for mismatches, narrowing the potential targets for genetic traits that differ between the ancient and modern grains. This study sequenced both the domestic and wild variety of einkorn, identifying about 5 billion base pairs that combine to make up individua genes and placing them in the correct order.
The study showed that einkorn can be used to map traits in bread wheat as they share the same gene for influencing the number of shoots a plant sends up from its base. UMD researchers have already begun identifying economically important genes, like those for grain size, and selectively breeding them into bread wheat. The reference genome also enabled scientists to trace the evolutionary history of einkorn wheat, which has been hybridized many times since its initial domestication and dispersal throughout Europe and Central Asia.