©Xavier Remongin/Min.agri.fr

The International Wheat Genome Sequencing Consortium, in which INRA, the French National Institute of Agricultural Research took a leading role, announced the publication of the first reference sequence of the wheat genome in Science on Aug. 17. French teams from INRA and several other agencies, organizations and universities, contributed to this major scientific breakthrough due to the size and complexity of this genome – five times larger than the human genome and 40 times larger than the rice genome. This result will make it possible to identify genes of agronomic interest, opening new perspectives for improving wheat varieties in the face of future planetary challenges. This also represents a major step in developing our fundamental understanding of the function and evolution of this complex genome.

With more than 220 million hectares, bread wheat is the most widely grown cereal crop in the world. A staple food product for 30% of the global population, wheat is also, along with rice, the most consumed cereal in human food, providing on average 20% of the average daily nutritional needs of people around the world. To meet the changing nutritional requirements of a growing world population while meeting environmental and social expectations, an annual increase in yields of 1.7% is needed. To succeed in obtaining this increase, a level of advancement without precedent since the Green Revolution of the 1960s must take place in both wheat varietal improvement and in agronomic practices.

The analysis of this sequence led to finding the precise location of over 107,000 genes, some of which include genes that are potentially involved in grain quality, disease resistance, and drought tolerance. It also allowed for the development of more than four million molecular markers, of which some are already being used in gene selection programs.

Beyond its goal of wheat improvement, this sequencing also allows for a better understanding of this genome, which is among the largest and most complicated of the plant world. Now it is possible to study gene organization and expression of this plant or even to shed light on the evolutionary mechanisms that played a role in forming this gene around 10,000 years ago.