UK team releases genome sequence of a globally important wheat variety

27 Jan 2020
The genome assembly for the globally important spring wheat variety Weebill 1 has been made publicly available to international plant breeders and scientists thanks to its sequencing by a UK research consortium, including NIAB.

Modern wheat varieties carry a wide range of different genes associated with important traits, such as increased yield and disease resistance. It is impossible to capture all of these genes with a single genome sequence so additional genome sequences are required. Sequencing multiple wheat genomes allow for a more complete complement of wheat genes to be identified, particularly genes that are present in only a subset of individuals or are unique to one variety.

NIAB lead researcher Dr James Cockram highlights how such research breakthroughs are all part of the fight to mitigate climate change by increasing the resilience of crops across the world. “Improved plant varieties may have a better capacity to withstand pests and diseases, while using fewer resources. They could also offer stable yields in an unstable climate and improve productivity through efficient use of water, land and nutrients.

“Bred by the International Centre for the Improvement of Maize and Wheat (CIMMYT) in Mexico over ten years ago, Weebill 1 has good yield coupled with drought and leaf rust pathogen resistance, and is already used in breeding programmes worldwide. Its genome assembly will help breeders and researchers identify these useful, and possibly unique, genomic loci to incorporate into wheat breeding programmes,” says Dr Cockram.

The UK team is led by Dr Matt Clark at the Natural History Museum, Dr Bernado Clavijo at the Earlham Institute, Professor Mike Bevan at the John Innes Centre and Dr James Cockram at NIAB. This work continues the long-term collaboration between CIMMYT and UK researchers, supporting the development of a new generation of wheat varieties by providing genomic resources and knowledge of 10 globally important wheat varieties as part of the Wheat 10+ Genomes Project. Funded by the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council, the UK collaboration is accelerating progress towards sustainable crop production in a changing environment.