A ten-nation consortium has reported the first high-quality reference genome sequence of barley. A notable and long-awaited community resource for cereal genetics and genomics, the genome will provide vital information for researchers who seek to accelerate barley improvement through breeding.

One of the first grains to be cultivated, today barley is a major cereal crop, widely grown around the world and Finland’s largest crop by area planted and harvest. However, 80% of the barley genome consists of repetitive sequences that make it hard to sequence.

Now, an international consortium has made a breakthrough in sequencing the complex barley genome, two times larger the human one. In a ten year research project, the genome was sequenced and assembled using an array of state-of-the-art methods.

“For the first time, scientists can now locate all genes precisely in the genome and analyze complex gene families that play a key role in malting and resilience”, explains Finnish research professor Alan Schulman.

“The barley genome sequence also highlighted regions vulnerable to genetic erosion and will help breeders recover genetic diversity in their crop improvement efforts.”

Meeting the challenges

Developing climate-smart and pathogen-resistant crops is the key current challenge of plant breeding. The genome sequence of a crop reveals detailed information on the location, structure and function of its genes, useful knowledge for the breeding needed to boost crop improvement.

“We can proudly say that the ten years of hard work has paid off. The science community is now a step closer in meeting the challenge and being able to develop barley that can maintain high yields in a changing environment to safeguard our food security”, Schulman concludes.

The outcome of the research, A chromosome conformation capture ordered sequence of the barley genome, is reported in the latest volume of Nature.

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