* Wheat breeders say more work needed after discovery
* Wheat growers welcome advancement
* Wish list includes drought tolerance, disease resistance
* Seen aiding conventional and genetically modified wheat
(Adds comments from Monsanto, time frame for genome sequence;
fresh quote paragraph three)
By Carey Gillam
KANSAS CITY, Aug 27 U.S. and international
wheat breeders said Friday publication of the gene map of wheat
could eventually help in developing beneficial new varieties,
but cautioned that cracking wheat's complicated genetic code is
far from completed.
British researchers working with the International Wheat
Genome Sequencing Consortium on Friday released the first
version of the wheat genome, a step toward a fully analyzed map
that should help wheat breeders develop varieties that can
yield more despite drought or disease. [ID:nLDE67Q06D]
"This is significant progress," said Kellye Eversole,
executive director of the International Wheat Genome Sequencing
Consortium (IWGSC). "It is a very useful contribution towards
the final goal of a genome sequence-based platform for wheat
breeding. While we are nowhere near cracking the genetic code
and far from having all of the information needed to understand
the wheat genome, we are moving forward."
Eversole said a high quality, complete genome sequence
should be available within the next five years.
The IWGSC was established by a group of plant scientists,
breeders, and growers to sequence the highly complex wheat
genome. Wheat has been viewed as all but impossible to sequence
because of its sheer size.
Like all plants, wheat has far more complex DNA than
animals. It is made up of 17 billion base pairs of the
chemicals that make up DNA -- five times more than the human
The public release of the wheat genome data should provide
a foundation to identify genetic differences between wheat
varieties, wheat breeding experts said. Much more work remains
to be done to discover what the genetic data means.
CRITICAL FOR GROWERS
"We don't really have a sequence in hand yet. We're really
not there," said Kansas State University wheat breeder Allan
Difficulty mapping the genetic code has left wheat behind
other major food crops as corporate agricultural research
companies such as Monsanto (MON.N) and others have advanced
breeding in corn, soybeans and other crops. Wheat acreage has
been in decline in the United States, a major world wheat
producer, as U.S. farmers favor more profitable crops.
"For Monsanto, a quality wheat genome map could potentially
help in our efforts to bring better wheat varieties to
farmers," said Monsanto's global wheat technology lead Claire
Monsanto and BASF (BASFn.DE) are collaborating on
development of a yield-enhanced biotech wheat for North
American and Australian markets.
National Association of Wheat Growers CEO Dana Peterson
said U.S. growers have been clamoring for advanced wheat
varieties that tolerate disease better, withstand drought and
heat, and make use of nitrogen fertilizers more efficiently.
She said genetic advancements should make it easier for
breeders pursuing both conventional and genetically modified
"This is a large step forward," Peterson said.
U.S. Wheat Associates President Alan Tracy said he hoped
the finding would spur new investments in wheat research.
Research dollars going to corn are more than 20 times that
going to wheat, said Tracy.
"I think we will see major changes in they way wheat seed
is bred and marketed," Tracy said. "The new emphasis on and
investment in wheat breeding is good news both for wheat
producers and a hungry world."
Syngenta SYNN.VX, which, along with Monsanto and BASF, is
among the companies working on developing genetically modified
wheat with improved yield and other traits, welcomes the
scientific advancement, said spokesman Paul Minehart.
"It is an important step that will help wheat breeders
develop new varieties and traits that are essential for
productive farming and securing food production for a growing
world population," Minehart said.
(Reporting by Carey Gillam, edited by Maggie Fox, Peter Bohan
and Jim Marshall)