TriticeaeGenome project is designed to achieve significant progresses in Triticeae genomics and support efficient breeding of improved varities for the European agriculture.
The world and European agriculture face the challenge of delivering safe, high-quality, and health-promoting food and feed in an economical, environmentally sensitive, and sustainable manner while maintaining yield and stability across different environments affected by climatic change. Triticeae cereals (wheat, barley, and rye) represent major renewable resources for food, feed, and industrial raw materials and are the most important crops for European agriculture. However, the existing Triticeae varieties and the current breeding methods will not enable the advancements needed for the quantum leap in yield, quality, and biomass conversion efficiency necessary to ensure the competitiveness and independence of European agriculture.
Despite the economic importance of the Triticeae species and the need for accelerated crop improvement based on genomics studies, the complexity of their genomes in terms of size (17 Gb for the bread wheat genome, i.e., 5 times the human genome and 40 times the rice genome; 5Gb for barley), repeat content (>80%), and ploidy level (e.g. hexaploid wheat) has often been considered too challenging for efficient molecular studies. Consequently, Triticeae genomics and its application to the production of crops with improved composition and characteristics designed to satisfy the needs of consumers, processors and producers and efficiently answer the challenges of tomorrow’s agriculture has lagged behind advances in other cereal crops. Wheat and barley are now the last major crops for which no genome sequencing effort is underway. Recently, however, the convergence of several technology developments has led to new and more efficient scientific capabilities and resources (e.g. whole-genome and chromosome-specific BAC libraries, extensive EST collections, transformation systems, wild germplasm and mutant collections, DNA chips) that now allow the establishment of large scale genomic programs for the Triticeae.
TriticeaeGenome will mobilize and integrate European scientific research and resources on Triticeae genomics to develop genomic tools for plant breeding, efficient gene isolation, and optimized exploitation of genetic resources. This project will deliver novel information and tools to breeders and scientists, providing a better understanding of Triticeae genomes, their organisation, evolution, and function.
In a coordinated and collaborative manner, it will leverage efforts and resources developed at the international level in other grasses (rice, sorghum maize, brachypodium) and establish a platform for future international genome sequencing projects in wheat and barley. Beyond its scientific and economic objectives, the project will reinforce the leadership of Europe in Triticeae genomics and produce a competitive advantage for EU farmers and the food and feed industry in the global market.
The domestication and large-scale cultivation of bread wheat and barley in the Fertile Crescent approximately 10,000 years ago is thought to have provided the first foundations for large-scale settlement and the steady rise of cities and nation states in the Near East and Europe, This linkage remains today as the environment and economies are linked interdependently on a global scale. Several factors, such as global climate change, increased population pressures, increased cereal consumption for food and fuel, salinization, and long-term drought in major wheat growing regions, all conspire to create a unique set of challenges for global food supply. Our capacity to respond to and meet these challenges is of major political concern. In Europe, a comprehensive response is being planned through the development of a knowledge based bio-economy that aims to secure global food supplies in an environmentally sustainable manner. The EU economy relies heavily on agriculture (17 million farms; 8% of EU25 workforce employed in the agricultural sector) and the EU seed market with 8.4 billion Euros annually represents the largest regional market (30% of the global market). Wheat (87 Mt vs 64 in USA) and barley (42 Mt vs 12Mt in Canada) are the most important cereal crops grown in Europe (see the figure below) and Europe has a long history of breeding and improvement of these essential species.
The TriticeaeGenome project is the first international-scale, systematic genomics project to construct physical maps of bread wheat and barley chromosomes. This project will have several far-reaching impacts: