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A new future for an old crop:

barley enters the genomics age

Chair of the International Barley Sequencing Consortium: Dr. Nils Stein, IPK Gatersleben, Germany

Chair of the International Barley Sequencing Consortium: Dr. Nils Stein, IPK Gatersleben, Germany

Gatersleben, 17 October 2012 Higher yields, improved pest and disease resistance and enhanced nutritional value are among potential benefits of an international scientific research effort that has resulted in an integrated physical, genetical and functional sequence assembly of the barley genome, as described in a paper published online today in the prestigious journal Nature The new resource, produced by the International Barley Sequencing Consortium (IBSC), founded and led by German researchers that received funding from the Leibniz Association’s Joint Initiative for Research and Innovation, the Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF), and the German Research Council (DFG), will facilitate the development of new and better barley varieties prepared to cope with the demands of climate change. It should also help in the fight against cereal crop diseases, which cause millions in losses every year. Researchers of the Gatersleben-based Leibniz Institute of Plant Genetics and Crop Plant Research (IPK) together with colleagues at the Leibniz Institute for Age Research - Fritz Lipmann Institute in Jena and the Helmholtz Center in Neuherberg laid the cornerstone for piecing together barley genome information in a highly structured physical and genetic framework. First cultivated more than 15,000 years ago, barley belongs to the Triticeae tribe - which includes wheat and rye - and that together provides around 30 % of the calories consumed globally. It is the world’s fourth and Germany’s second most important cereal crop in terms of output, being estimated at 2.4 billion Euros for 2012, according to the 2012 statistics on German Agriculture, which is only exceeded by wheat. The barley genome almost doubles in size that of humans and determining the sequence of its DNA has presented a major challenge. This is mainly because its genome contains a large proportion of closely related sequences, which are difficult to piece together. By developing and applying a series of innovative strategies that allowed them to circumvent these difficulties, IBSC has succeeded in positioning the DNA sequences of the majority of barley genes into a linear order along each individual chromosome. This is an important milestone towards eventually unravelling a full barley reference genome sequence. Their publication in Nature provides a detailed overview of the functional portions of the barley genome, revealing the order and structure of most of its 32,000 genes and a detailed analysis of where and when genes are switched on in different tissues and at different stages of development. They describe the location of dynamic regions of the genome that carry genes conferring resistance to diseases. This will provide a far better understanding of the crop’s immune system.  

By re-sequencing a range of unique barley lines they highlight with unprecedented detail the extent of natural genetic variation that exists within elite barley germplasm. Such genetic variation is the foundation of traditional crop improvement programmes and understanding its extent and distribution is invaluable for both barley researchers and breeders. The newly established sequence resources provide a springboard for the development of innovative approaches for the use of abundant genetic resources kept in ex situ genebanks around the globe.

The leader of the international consortium and the German teams, Dr. Nils Stein of the Leibniz Institute of Plant Genetics and Crop Plant Research (IPK) commented: “Access to the assembled catalogue of gene sequences will streamline efforts to improve barley production through breeding for varieties better able to withstand pests and disease and deal with adverse environmental conditions such as drought and heat stress. It will accelerate research in barley, and its close relatives, wheat and rye. Armed with this information breeders and scientists will be much better placed to deal with the challenge of effectively addressing the food security agenda under the constraints of a rapidly changing environment.” The IBSC ([link]www.barleygenome.org) was founded in 2006, and includes scientists from Germany, Japan, Finland, Australia, the United Kingdom, the United States and China. The data resources related to the publication are freely accessible on the websites [link]http://mips.helmholtz-muenchen.de/plant/barley/index.jsp and [link]http://webblast.ipk-gatersleben.de/barley.

Free Picture

[link]https://www.ipk-gatersleben.de/fileadmin/content-ipk/content-ipk-institut/Pictures/PM_Nature_Stein.jpg (Copyright: Roland Schnee | [link]www.ipk-gatersleben.de)

Caption: Chair of the International Barley Sequencing Consortium: Dr. Nils Stein, IPK Gatersleben, Germany

Notes for Editors: About the importance of barley for the German economy
Barley is the fourth most important crop in German agriculture with a production worth some 1 billion EURO in 2010. Malting barley (some 10 % of the total) underpins the famous German beer sector that is worth some 7.8 billion to the economy with 700 million flowing directly to the treasury as tax. Lower quality grain and by-products of the malting process are components of the animal feed that underpins the meat and dairy industries. Over the past 50 years barley grain yields, have more than doubled with recent analysis revealing that greater than 90 % of this improvement can be attributed to genetics. (sources: FAOSTAT 2010, Statistik Deutscher Brauer-Bund e.V.).  About the Leibniz Institute of Plant Genetics and Crop Plants Research (IPK)
IPK was re-established in 1992 and is a member institute of the Leibniz Association. It is a successor of the former Central Institute of Genetics of the GDR Academy of Sciences and the Kaiser-Wilhelm-Institute of Crop Plant Research which was established already in 1943. The Institute encompasses a distinctive range of integrated, world-class strengths in genetics, physiology and cytology of crop plants. IPK is hosting the largest ex situ genebank of Western Europe (ranks among the 10 largest in the world) hosting somewhat over 150,000 accessions of about 3.000 crop species and wild relatives. The Institute has a staff of over 500 including 80 PhD students.  The Institute organises its research through three principal themes: Development, Conservation and Utilization of Plant Genetic Resources, Dynamics of Plant Genomes, and Integrative Biology of Plants Performance. Research of the 30 scientific groups at IPK ([link]http://www.ipk-gatersleben.de) is dedicated to fundamental as well as application-oriented plant research with emphasis on crop plants such as barley, wheat, maize, rapeseed, and pea and is supported by the use of models such as Arabidopsis, tobacco, or Brachypodium. Further, the Institute is the heart of the Plant Biotech Campus Gatersleben. Several companies and start-ups established themselves or their subsidiaries on the campus. 


Publication:     dx.doi.org/10.1038/nature11543

IBSC:              [link]http://barleygenome.org

Data:               [link]http://mips.helmholtz-muenchen.de/plant/barley/index.jsp


More information from: Roland Schnee, Media and External Relations Coordinator, Leibniz Institute of Plant Genetics and Crop Plant Research (IPK), Tel: +49-39482-5427, Email: Schnee@ipk-gatersleben.de or Dr. Nils Stein, Group Leader Genome Diversity and chair of the International Barley Sequencing Consortium, Tel: +49-39482-5522, Email: stein@ipk-gatersleben.de