Feature: Barley genome technology - a hit with breeders
Crop breeding companies are benefiting from new genotyping technologies, developed as part of a multi-agency project (see BBSRC Business July 2005), to identify and understand how gene variation in commercial barley varieties influences a wide range of traits.
High quality spring-sown barley underpins the multi-billion pound malting, brewing and distilling sectors, including the £4Bn whisky industry, the UK's biggest food and drink exporter. To maintain and improve competitiveness in these sectors there is a vital need for improved barley varieties that continually outperform their predecessors.
© Hemera/Thinkstock 2010
Funded by BBSRC, Defra and the Scottish Government through the Sustainable Arable LINK programme, the Association Genetics of UK Elite Barleys (AGOUEB) project brought together a consortium of breeders and geneticists (ref 1), together with representatives from throughout the barley supply chain, to utilise powerful genomics-based genotyping technologies in a new 'association mapping' approach to genetic analyses.
"AGOUEB is testimony to the need for longer-term vision and investment in crop science," says project leader Professor Robbie Waugh from the Scottish Crop Research Institute (SCRI).
"Previous BBSRC funding had provided the genomic background necessary for gene-based marker development, but this was the first crop plant project to 'parallelise' genetic marker technology to allow thousands of genotypic datapoints to be obtained in a single assay. This platform allowed us to prove that it was possible to use a high resolution population-based approach to identify genes controlling characters that are important for the crop's environmental and industry acceptance."
Developing a platform for discovery
The researchers created two Illumina™ oligo-pool assays (OPAs), each of which assessed 1,536 gene-based 'markers' at a time, to characterise over 1,000 UK elite barley lines.
In an integrated approach, the team also took advantage of the considerable volume of historical plant characterisation data (trait scores and trials data) which had already been collected. Analysis of the data is ongoing but already the project has shown that mapping resolution is significantly improved for many traits using association genetics.
To date, two genes, one involved in plant pigmentation and one in floral morphology, have been identified and verified and several others are now the focus of gene identification. This more fundamental aspect of the project is important because it provides molecular diagnostics that can be efficiently used in plant breeding and a DNA sequence template for discovering natural gene variants that may perform better that those currently available.
© Hemera/Thinkstock 2010
Accelerating breeding programmes
The OPA genotyping technology has been rapidly adopted by the commercial breeding partners (who have invested in the relevant infrastructure) and is now used routinely in their barley breeding programmes.
Chris Tapsell, Technical Director at KWS-UK said, "The technology platform is stimulating us to consider new ways of breeding crops based on completely novel methodologies which could not have been considered even in the recent past."
The technology is also widely used by the academic community to address a broad range of biology- and trait-based questions, where it simplifies and facilitates data collection and integration, and accelerates the rate of genetic discovery. Not surprisingly, similar platforms are now extending into other crops.
"This much broader outcome can only benefit and support an industry that is charged with increasing crop production to meet the challenges of food security, climate change and sustainable production," says Waugh.
At a glance
Barley is the second most widely grown crop in the UK, with 1.2 million hectares produced in 2009, which yielded over 6.8 million tonnes of grain. It forms an important part of an ecologically friendly crop rotation and is often grown on marginal land that is less suited to other cereal crops.
Over 25% of barley grain is used for malting and distilling, with the remainder used mainly for animal feed.
At the height of the 2007/08 food crisis the price of malting barley quickly reached £140 per tonne, almost double the average of the previous year. Barley straw is also a valuable commodity as a supplement to animal nutrition and in the production of second generation bioenergy production.
- AGOUEB involved SCRI, The University of Birmingham, NIAB, UK-EU breeders (KWS-UK, LS Plant Breeding, Nickerson/Limagrain, Secobra, Syngenta, Svalöf Weibull), Home Grown Cereals Authority, Maltsters Association of Great Britain, Brewing Research International, Coors Brewers & the Scotch Whisky Research Institute
BBSRC contributes to the research partnership for global food security.
Professor Robbie Waugh, Scottish Crop Research Institute
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