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Wheat genome decoded in part

Scientists have unlocked key parts of the crop’s genetic code.

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Palestinian farmers load a combine harvester with wheat during the annual harvest season in Rafah, near the Egyptian border, in the southern Gaza Strip on May 22, 2012. (Said Khatib/AFP/Getty Images)

Scientists from the United States, United Kingdom and Germany have completed the most comprehensive analysis to date of the wheat genome, decoding key parts of the crop’s genetic code, Reuters reported.

Their findings, published today in the journal Nature, are expected to help develop more productive and disease-resistant varieties of grain.

"We know that there are wild varieties that are particularly good when it comes to drought resistance or flood resistance, but they have very low productivity," study coauthor Neil Hall from the University of Liverpool's Institute of Integrative Biology told BBC News. "You have got to get those high-productivity traits into backgrounds that are more resistant to things like drought or disease."

According to Reuters:

The identification of around 96,000 wheat genes, and insights into the links between them, comes just two years after UK researchers published the raw data of the wheat genome.

Wheat, which evolved from three species of grasses, has a complex genome that is almost five times larger than the human genome, Reuters reported.

Bread wheat is the third most-produced food crop after maize and rice, providing about 20 percent of the calories humans consume, BBC News reported. This year, wheat prices spiked due to extreme weather.

"In the face of this year's wheat crop losses, and worries over the impact on prices for consumers, this breakthrough in our understanding of the bread wheat genome could not have come at a better time,” Douglas Kell, chief executive of the UK's Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council, which funded the research, told BBC News.

More from GlobalPost: Food prices rise, prompting fears of another world food crisis

 

http://www.globalpost.com/dispatch/news/regions/europe/united-kingdom/121128/wheat-genome-partially-decoded