U of S researchers contribute to first draft of wheat genome

University of Saskatchewan researchers are part of an international team who published the first chromosome-based draft sequence of the wheat genome, a development that promises wheat breeders powerful new tools in developing varieties to meet the challenges of world population growth and climate change.

"The release of the chromosomal draft of the wheat genome sequence will accelerate gene discovery in wheat, and pave the way for development of tools to improve breeding of complex traits such as yield, insect and disease resistance, and end-use quality," said Curtis Pozniak, one of the principal investigators for the U of S contribution to the paper, which appears in the July 18, 2014 issue of the international journal, Science.

Pozniak, a professor in the College of Agriculture and Bioresources, is a wheat breeder and geneticist with the U of S Crop Development Centre. He is also one of the project leaders of CTAG (Canadian Triticum Advancement through Genomics), a multi-year, multi-million dollar project managed by Genome Prairie that supports sequencing of the wheat genome.

"The chromosome-based draft is a technical tour de force and highlights improvements in sequencing and bioinformatics over the last few years," said Andrew Sharpe, co-principal investigator for CTAG and research officer at the National Research Council of Canada's Saskatoon research facilities on the U of S campus. "The work has provided a fascinating glimpse into the evolution of the wheat genome. However, the full story will only be established with the development of a reference genome sequence."

The work is a key step towards generating the knowledge needed to unlock higher productivity in wheat and meet global demand for this important food source. Canada's annual wheat crop is valued at about $4 billion, with much of that production destined for global markets.

"Farmers in Canada and around the world must significantly increase production to feed more than nine billion people by 2050, and do this in the face of challenges posed by limited land resources and climate change," said Chris Barker, chief scientific officer at Genome Prairie. "Clear knowledge of the wheat genome is essential to allow developers to produce wheat varieties to meet these challenges."

Worldwide, statistics show wheat ranks third behind corn and rice in volume produced, with almost 700 million tonnes harvested from 215 million hectares. This is the most area of any crop under cultivation, in part due to the crop's ability to grow in a wide range of environments. A staple for about 30 per cent of the world's people, wheat's ease of storage and versatility make it a key ingredient in a wide variety of foods across many cultures.

CTAG represents Canada's contribution to the International Wheat Genome Sequencing Consortium (IWGSC), which is focused on sequencing each of the 21 chromosomes of bread wheat. Involving more than 1,000 researchers world-wide, IWGSC's goal is to complete a "reference sequence" or complete wheat genome sequence. To date, this has been achieved for chromosome 3B, the largest of wheat's 21 chromosomes, a feat published in the same issue of Science.

"With the draft gene sequence for each of the bread wheat chromosomes and the first reference sequence of chromosome 3B, we have reached a great milestone in our roadmap," said Catherine Feuillet, IWGSC co-chair. "We know now the way forward to obtain a reference sequence for the 20 remaining chromosomes and we hopefully will be able to find the resources to achieve this in the next three years."

Financial support for the CTAG project is provided by Genome Canada, the Province of Saskatchewan, the Western Grains Research Foundation, Viterra and Alberta Innovates. Additional funders include the Alberta Crop Industry Development Fund, India's National Agri-Food Biotechnology Institute and France's Institut National de la Recherche Agronomique.


Jennifer Thoma

Media Relations Specialist

University of Saskatchewan



Media Relations Team

National Research Council of Canada


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