Research Article

Shifting the limits in wheat research and breeding using a fully annotated reference genome

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Science  17 Aug 2018:
Vol. 361, Issue 6403, eaar7191
DOI: 10.1126/science.aar7191

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Insights from the annotated wheat genome

Wheat is one of the major sources of food for much of the world. However, because bread wheat's genome is a large hybrid mix of three separate subgenomes, it has been difficult to produce a high-quality reference sequence. Using recent advances in sequencing, the International Wheat Genome Sequencing Consortium presents an annotated reference genome with a detailed analysis of gene content among subgenomes and the structural organization for all the chromosomes. Examples of quantitative trait mapping and CRISPR-based genome modification show the potential for using this genome in agricultural research and breeding. Ramírez-González et al. exploited the fruits of this endeavor to identify tissue-specific biased gene expression and coexpression networks during development and exposure to stress. These resources will accelerate our understanding of the genetic basis of bread wheat.

Science, this issue p. eaar7191; see also p. eaar6089

Structured Abstract

INTRODUCTION

Wheat (Triticum aestivum L.) is the most widely cultivated crop on Earth, contributing about a fifth of the total calories consumed by humans. Consequently, wheat yields and production affect the global economy, and failed harvests can lead to social unrest. Breeders continuously strive to develop improved varieties by fine-tuning genetically complex yield and end-use quality parameters while maintaining stable yields and adapting the crop to regionally specific biotic and abiotic stresses.

RATIONALE

Breeding efforts are limited by insufficient knowledge and understanding of wheat biology and the molecular basis of central agronomic traits. To meet the demands of human population growth, there is an urgent need for wheat research and breeding to accelerate genetic gain as well as to increase and protect wheat yield and quality traits. In other plant and animal species, access to a fully annotated and ordered genome sequence, including regulatory sequences and genome-diversity information, has promoted the development of systematic and more time-efficient approaches for the selection and understanding of important traits. Wheat has lagged behind, primarily owing to the challenges of assembling a genome that is more than five times as large as the human genome, polyploid, and complex, containing more than 85% repetitive DNA. To provide a foundation for improvement through molecular breeding, in 2005, the International Wheat Genome Sequencing Consortium set out to deliver a high-quality annotated reference genome sequence of bread wheat.

RESULTS

An annotated reference sequence representing the hexaploid bread wheat genome in the form of 21 chromosome-like sequence assemblies has now been delivered, giving access to 107,891 high-confidence genes, including their genomic context of regulatory sequences. This assembly enabled the discovery of tissue- and developmental stage–related gene coexpression networks using a transcriptome atlas representing all stages of wheat development. The dynamics of change in complex gene families involved in environmental adaptation and end-use quality were revealed at subgenome resolution and contextualized to known agronomic single-gene or quantitative trait loci. Aspects of the future value of the annotated assembly for molecular breeding and research were exemplarily illustrated by resolving the genetic basis of a quantitative trait locus conferring resistance to abiotic stress and insect damage as well as by serving as the basis for genome editing of the flowering-time trait.

CONCLUSION

This annotated reference sequence of wheat is a resource that can now drive disruptive innovation in wheat improvement, as this community resource establishes the foundation for accelerating wheat research and application through improved understanding of wheat biology and genomics-assisted breeding. Importantly, the bioinformatics capacity developed for model-organism genomes will facilitate a better understanding of the wheat genome as a result of the high-quality chromosome-based genome assembly. By necessity, breeders work with the genome at the whole chromosome level, as each new cross involves the modification of genome-wide gene networks that control the expression of complex traits such as yield. With the annotated and ordered reference genome sequence in place, researchers and breeders can now easily access sequence-level information to precisely define the necessary changes in the genomes for breeding programs. This will be realized through the implementation of new DNA marker platforms and targeted breeding technologies, including genome editing.

Wheat genome deciphered, assembled, and ordered.

Seeds, or grains, are what counts with respect to wheat yields (left panel), but all parts of the plant contribute to crop performance. With complete access to the ordered sequence of all 21 wheat chromosomes, the context of regulatory sequences, and the interaction network of expressed genes—all shown here as a circular plot (right panel) with concentric tracks for diverse aspects of wheat genome composition—breeders and researchers now have the ability to rewrite the story of wheat crop improvement. Details on value ranges underlying the concentric heatmaps of the right panel are provided in the full article online.

Abstract

An annotated reference sequence representing the hexaploid bread wheat genome in 21 pseudomolecules has been analyzed to identify the distribution and genomic context of coding and noncoding elements across the A, B, and D subgenomes. With an estimated coverage of 94% of the genome and containing 107,891 high-confidence gene models, this assembly enabled the discovery of tissue- and developmental stage–related coexpression networks by providing a transcriptome atlas representing major stages of wheat development. Dynamics of complex gene families involved in environmental adaptation and end-use quality were revealed at subgenome resolution and contextualized to known agronomic single-gene or quantitative trait loci. This community resource establishes the foundation for accelerating wheat research and application through improved understanding of wheat biology and genomics-assisted breeding.

  • Authorship of this paper should be cited as “International Wheat Genome Sequencing Consortium” (IWGSC, 2018).

  • Major contributors

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