Golden-delicious

Golden-delicious

An apple a day keeps the doctor away, but can knowing its genetic secrets help feed the 9 billion people expected on this planet by 2050? Scientists hope so, especially considering they have added wheat this week to the list of crops that have had their genetic instruction set read.

Wheat, which is a grass, might seem like a simple sequencing task, but the crop actually has a genome five times bigger than a human’s three billion DNA base pairs. Scientists from the U.K. released the list of the genetics of the Chinese spring wheat variety online on August 27 in a bid to “increase the efficiency of breeding new crop varieties,” said team member Keith Edwards of the University of Bristol in a statement.

Previously, agriculturists such as the late, great Norman Borlaug had to laboriously cross-breed varieties to develop new traits, such as the high-yielding dwarf wheat Borlaug bred in the mid-20th century that staved off famine for billions. Now breeders can simply focus on increasing yield under, say, the drought conditions experienced in Russia this summer. (They will be hard pressed, however, to develop a wheat variety that can withstand that country’s concomitant catastrophic fires.)

Advertisements