Barley genome fully mapped

German researchers, leading an international consortium, 
say they’ve given us the best picture yet of the barley genome

A new and more complete barley genome may set the stage for new and better varieties.

Scientists at Helmholtz Zentrum München, a German research centre, have published the closest look yet at the barley genome.

They recently published their findings in the journal Nature and lead author Heidrum Gundlach says they hope the new and more detailed barley genome will help develop varieties resistant to pathogens and tolerant of climate fluctuations.

Gundlach said the barley genome is large — about twice the size of the human genome — and has a lot of repetitive elements, making it difficult to sequence completely.

  • Read more: Researchers sequence two-thirds of the barley genome

“This is why there was previously only a preliminary, incomplete and incorrect genome sequence,” Gundlach said.

Gundlach, along with colleagues in an international consortium, has succeeded in creating a new, high-quality reference genome sequence for barley.

Co-author Manuel Spannagl said they were able to decode the “architecture” of the large genome and get to the heart of how it works and interacts.

“Our data allows the first detailed analysis of agronomically and industrially important gene families such as alpha-amylase, an enzyme with special importance in the brewing process,” Spannagl said.

With their new reference, researchers also want to examine the natural diversity of barley at the genomic level. Their findings could significantly accelerate the process to cultivate new varieties, for example, in light of the climate change.

The next step calls for the sequencing, analysis, and genomic comparison of further types of barley.

Researchers want to determine important characteristics, such as resistances of individual varieties, and apply them to other types.

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