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First member of the wheat and barley group of grasses is sequenced

Visit John Innes Centre website

10 February 2010

A few grass species provide the bulk of our food supply and new grass crops are being domesticated for sustainable energy and feedstock production. However there are significant barriers limiting crop improvement, such as a lack of knowledge of gene function and their large and complex genomes.

Now, in the 11 February issue of Nature, an international consortium led by the John Innes Centre, the US Department of Energy Joint Genome Institute, the US Department of Agriculture and Oregon State University present an analysis of the complete genome sequence of the wild grass Brachypodium distachyon.

Three different groups of grasses, represented by maize, rice and wheat, provide most of the grains that support human nutrition and our domesticated animals. The genomes of two of these three groups have been sequenced. Brachypodium distachyon is the first member of the third group, which contains key food and fodder crops such as wheat, barley and forage grasses, to be sequenced.

Analysis of the compact Brachypodium genome has provided new insights into how grass genomes evolve and expand and it has demonstrated how Brachypodium can be used to navigate the closely related yet far larger and more complex genomes of wheat and barley.

"Our analysis of the Brachypodium genome is a key resource for securing sustainable supplies of food, feed and fuel from established crops such as wheat, barley and forage grasses and for the development of crops for bioenergy and renewable resource production", stated Michael Bevan from the John Innes Centre. "It is already being widely used by crop scientists to identify genes in wheat and barley, and it is defining new approaches to large-scale genome analysis of these crops, because of the high degree of conserved gene structure and organisation we identified".

Brachypodium also has other important features, including a rapid life cycle and a very compact growth habit, making it ideal for laboratory studies. Philippe Vain is leading a programme at the John Innes Centre aimed at providing scientists with resources to identify gene functions. "Scientists can now use genetic resources we are developing in Brachypodium to determine the functions of genes involved in grass crop productivity. This has the potential to accelerate research in sustainable food production and in new sources of energy".

ENDS

Notes to editors

For images of Brachypodium see external contact below.

Reference: 'Genome sequencing and analysis of the model grass Brachypodium distachyon' will be published by Nature on 11th February 2010 Vol 463 11 February 2010 doi:10.1038/nature08747.

For more information about the international collaboration visit: www.brachypodium.org.

To access the genome sequence visit: www.modelcrop.org. To access functional genomics resources visit: www.BrachyTAG.org.

About the John Innes Centre

The John Innes Centre, www.jic.ac.uk, is an independent, world-leading research centre in plant and microbial sciences with over 800 staff. JIC is based on Norwich Research Park and carries out high quality fundamental, strategic and applied research to understand how plants and microbes work at the molecular, cellular and genetic levels. The JIC also trains scientists and students, collaborates with many other research laboratories and communicates its science to end-users and the general public. The JIC is grant-aided by the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council.

About BBSRC

BBSRC is the UK funding agency for research in the life sciences. Sponsored by Government, BBSRC annually invests around £450M in a wide range of research that makes a significant contribution to the quality of life in the UK  and beyond and supports a number of important industrial stakeholders, including the agriculture, food, chemical, healthcare and pharmaceutical sectors.

BBSRC provides institute strategic research grants to the following:

  • The Babraham Institute
  • Institute for Animal Health
  • Institute for Biological, Environmental and Rural Studies (Aberystwyth University)
  • Institute of Food Research
  • John Innes Centre
  • The Genome Analysis Centre
  • The Roslin Institute (University of Edinburgh)
  • Rothamsted Research

The Institutes conduct long-term, mission-oriented research using specialist facilities. They have strong interactions with industry, Government departments and other end-users of their research.

External contact

Andrew Chapple, JIC Press office

tel: 01603 251490

Zoe Dunford, JIC Press office

tel: 01603 255111

Contact

Matt Goode, Head of External Relations

tel: 01793 413299
fax: 01793 413382

Tracey Jewitt, Media Officer

tel: 01793 414694
fax: 01793 413382