The barley genome unravelled… and it's bigger than yours!
An international consortium of scientists has published a high resolution draft of the barley genome. The research, published in the journal Nature, will help to produce new and better barley varieties that are vital for the beer and whisky industries.
The UK team behind the research was led by Professor Robbie Waugh of Scotland's James Hutton Institute who worked with researchers at The Genome Analysis Centre, Norwich.
Barley is the second most important crop in UK agriculture and malting barley underpins brewing and pub industries worth some £20bn to the UK economy. The breakthrough is a critical step towards barley varieties able to cope with the demands of climate change. It should also help in the fight against cereal crop diseases that cause millions of pounds of losses annually.
Barley is the world's fourth most important cereal crop both in terms of area of cultivation and in quantity of grain produced. In addition to whisky and beer, barley is also a major component of the animal feed for meat and dairy industries. Barley straw is a source of nutrition for ruminants and is used for animal bedding and frost protection in the winter.
The barley genome is almost twice the size of that of humans and determining the sequence of its DNA has presented a major challenge. This is largely because its genome contains a large proportion of closely related sequences that are difficult to piece together into a true linear order. By developing and applying a series of innovative strategies that allowed them to circumvent these difficulties, the International Barley Genome Sequencing Consortium (IBSC) - including UK researchers in Dundee and Norwich and funded by the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council and Scottish Government - has managed to construct a high resolution draft DNA sequence assembly that contains the majority of barley genes in linear order.
Their publication provides a detailed overview of the functional portions of the barley genome, revealing the order and structure of most of its 32,000 genes and a detailed analysis of where and when genes are switched on in different tissues and at different stages of development. They describe the location of dynamic regions of the genome that, for example, contain genes conferring resistance to diseases. This will provide a far better understanding of the crop's immune system. The achievement also highlights with unprecedented detail the differences between several different barley cultivars.
Professor Waugh commented: "Access to the assembled catalogue of gene sequences will streamline efforts to improve barley production through breeding for varieties better able to withstand pests and disease and deal with adverse environmental conditions such as drought and heat stress.
"It will accelerate research in barley, and its close relative, wheat. Armed with this information breeders and scientists will be much better placed to deal with the challenge of effectively addressing the food security agenda under the constraints of a rapidly changing environment."
Mario Caccamo, Head of Bioinformatics at TGAC commented: "Barley is the first complex grass genome to be
sequenced and annotated. Obtaining the barley genome was the result of a team effort involving colleagues from across the globe. This is a great scientific achievement that will not only open the doors to innovative research in barley, but will also enable critical work in other economically important species such as wheat."
Commenting on the importance of this publication, Professor Douglas Kell, BBSRC Chief Executive said:"This provides a timely and important new tool for unlocking the potential of better varieties of barley that are able to cope with environmental stresses or produce higher yields. It is an exceptionally valuable step for UK agriculture at a time when we have seen huge losses in the field due to wet weather and price-rise predictions for the consumer."
The IBSC was founded in 2006, and includes scientists from Germany, Japan, Finland, Australia, the United Kingdom, the United States and China.
The genome sequence and related resources are freely accessible on the websites mips.helmholtz-muenchen.de.
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, and with an annual budget of around £445M (2011-2012), 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.
The Genome Analysis Centre is a vibrant, contemporary research institute and registered charity (Charity No. 1136213) working in an area of rapid technological development and innovation.
TGAC is strategically funded by The Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC) to lead the development of a skill base in bioinformatics and a genomics technology platform for UK bioscience. TGAC was set up in 2009 with capital and revenue funding from BBSRC in collaboration with Norfolk County Council, Norwich City Council, South Norfolk Council and the Greater Norwich Development Partnership and are TGAC’s Patrons. TGAC has now secured funding from BBSRC for the next 3 years of over £19 Million with indicated level going into 2017.
The Institute is located on the Norwich Research Park, together with its partners: the John Innes Centre, the Institute of Food Research, The Sainsbury Laboratory, the University of East Anglia and the Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital. The research park has an excellent reputation for research in plant and microbial sciences, interdisciplinary environmental science and food, diet and health, to which TGAC contributes strengths in genomics and bioinformatics.
TGAC 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. This has been boosted recently by an e-Infrastructure grant to expand the data storage capacity to a multi-petabyte unit, deploying a high performance cluster and large-memory server enabling the allocation of processes requiring several terabytes of computing memory.
TGAC’s state of the art DNA sequencing facility operates multiple complementary technologies for data generation that
provide the foundation for analyses furthering our fundamental understanding of genomes and how they function. We aim to be at the forefront of technological advances and are developing and implementing technologies to generate and analyse new types of data. We also develop novel platforms to provide access to computational tools and processing
capacity for multiple academic and industrial users and promoting applications of computational bioscience.
TGAC has one fully owned subsidiary, Genome Enterprise Ltd (GEL) via which it offers genomic and bioinformatics
services on a trading basis and works with commercial providers on a partnership basis. TGAC also receives specific funding to enable knowledge exchange programmes which are supported across the institute teams.
For more information about TGAC see www.tgac.ac.uk