Genetic secrets of durum wheat for better pasta

Italian, Canadian, Israeli, German and U.S. Scientists Work Together to Reveal the Genetic Secrets of Durum Wheat for Better Pasta

Durum wheat assembly can lead to better and more resilient durum for more nutritious food

July 6, 2016 – The international collaborative research network comprising the Council for Agricultural Research and Economics (CREA, Italy), the National Research Council of Italy (CNR), the Crop Development Centre of the University of Saskatchewan (Canada), the University of Tel Aviv (Israel), the University of Bologna (Italy), the IPK Gatersleben (Germany) and Montana State University (USA) announce, together with NRGene, a global leader in genomic analysis, the assembly of the durum wheat genome, the source of semolina, the key ingredient of pasta.

The durum wheat assembly was completed under the leadership of Dr. Luigi Cattivelli of Italy’s CREA, along with an international team from universities across the globe, including Dr. Curtis Pozniak of the University of Saskatchewan; Dr. Assaf Distelfeld of Tel Aviv University; Drs. Aldo Ceriotti, Luciano Milanesi, Alessandra Stella and Gabriella Sonnante of CNR; Drs. Marco Maccaferri, Silvio Salvi and Roberto Tuberosa of the University of Bologna; Dr. Nicola Pecchioni of CREA; Drs. Nils Stein and Martin Mascher of IPK; and Dr. Hikmet Budak of Montana State University.

Funding was provided by CREA, CNR and the Italian Ministry of Education University and Research Flagship Project InterOmics, Genome Canada, Saskatchewan Ministry of Agriculture, Western Grains Research Foundation, the Saskatchewan and Alberta Wheat Development Commission (through the CTAG 2 Project), University of Bologna, Israel Science Foundation, IPK Gatersleben, and Montana Plant Science Endowment.

“Considering that pasta is a staple for the world’s population and recognizing that industries are asking for more and higher quality durum grains despite many abiotic and biotic constraints, it’s critical to select new durum cultivars with greater yield potential as well as enhanced quality and nutritional properties,” said Dr. Cattivelli. “The availability of the durum genome sequence is an essential tool to achieve these targets.” The general strategy has relied on short-read sequences generated by Genomix4Life, a spinoff of the University of Salerno (Italy), and assembled using NRGene’s DeNovoMAGICTM 2 software to produce a complete reference or variety genome analysis within a few days or weeks, depending on the complexity of the genome. Before NRGene undertook the challenge, mapping a complete genome of a complex 12 billion bp genome like the one of durum wheat (about 4 times the human genome) could have taken nearly a decade. Durum wheat was sequenced and assembled in only a few months, providing researchers with the complete list of genes for this cereal crop. The whole genome assembly data will be integrated with physical-map based sequence data to produce a high quality, ordered sequence for each of the 14 durum wheat chromosomes. This will allow researchers to precisely locate genes, regulatory elements and markers along the genome, providing invaluable tools and opportunities for durum wheat breeders. The high quality durum wheat reference sequence will be publicly available in less than two years.

“Thanks to NRGene’s technology, we now have access to the complete genome sequence for durum wheat. This is a very exciting time to be a durum wheat breeder, as we are now set to make advances in our understanding of critical genes and regulatory elements important to yield, disease resistance, climatic stresses and quality,” said Dr. Pozniak.

“The availability of the durum wheat high quality genome sequence will contribute to better understand the genetics of gluten and semolina and therefore will help to improve pasta quality traits,” said Dr. Ceriotti at CNR.

“The origin of wheats suitable for pasta will be elucidated by the availability of the durum wheat genome sequence, which in turn will contribute to the development of more effective breeding strategies,” said Dr. Tuberosa at University of Bologna.

“The high quality durum wheat genome sequencing will also help a better understanding of the genetic and other factors that favored the evolution of the polyploidy wheat,” said Dr. Budak. The NRGene technologies focus on accelerating seed development and reducing the breeding time. With the durum wheat assembly, scientists will get a complete map of the genome required to select new cultivars with higher quality, higher yield and more resistance to diseases.

“Last year, not a single fully assembled wheat genome existed,” said Dr. Gil Ronen, CEO of NRGene. “Now we provide the world’s scientists the nearly completed, highly accurate genome sequences of the commercial durum wheat, its wild ancestor and other most complex wheat genomes.”

Wheat was domesticated more than 10,000 years ago and still represents one of the main sources of calories and protein for human nutrition. However, very little is known about the factors that control the yield and quality in this crop. Durum wheat, in particular, is widely cultivated in the Mediterranean area, which is expected to be particularly vulnerable to climate changes. In face of these challenges, new varieties need to be developed to increase yield while maintaining quality and reducing agricultural inputs.

The availability of a reference genome is expected to boost durum wheat research, helping reveal the secrets of this ancient crop and to guarantee global food security in the years to come.

About CREA
The “Council for agricultural research and economics” (CREA) is an Italian National Research Organization operating under the supervision of the Ministry of Agriculture, with competences within the fields of agriculture, agro-industry, food and forestry. CREA is organized in 12 research Centres, among them the Genomics research centre and the Cereal research centre have a mission mainly devoted to plant genomics and cereal breeding, respectively. The research activities aim at widening the understanding of the structure and function of genes and their products, genetically improving crop species, and increasing food quality, safety and security, all within a general frame of agricultural sustainability and of product and process innovation.

About CNR
Founded in 1923, the National Research Council (CNR) is the largest public research institution in Italy. CNR performs multi-disciplinary research and is organized into seven Departments and one hundred Institutes. With 500 researchers and nine Institutes distributed over the whole country, the Department of Biology, Agriculture and Food Sciences (DISBA) addresses the grand challenges of the bioeconomy, with the goal of providing sufficient, safe and high-quality food, while developing a sustainable agriculture and reducing pressure on natural resources.

About University of Bologna
With more than 250 agriculture-related scientists, the University of Bologna, is the leading University for research and applications in the agrifood chain in Italy. The Cereal Genomics lab collaborates worldwide with private and public stakeholders to generate platforms, genetic stocks and knowledge instrumental for the selection of improved cultivars in durum wheat and maize. First in Italy to clone quantitative trait loci (QTL) of agronomic interest, the Cereal Genomics lab has developed detailed genetic maps and genetic stocks to more effectively harness natural and induced variability in durum wheat, maize and barley.

About University of Saskatchewan one of Canada’s top 15 research-intensive universities
The University of Saskatchewan Crop Development Centre in the College of Agriculture and Bioresources is a field crop research organization that seeks to improve economic returns for farmers and the agriculture industry by improving existing crops, creating new uses for traditional crops, and developing new crops. facilities/crop-development- centre.php.

About Tel Aviv University
The Institute for Crops Improvement (ICCI) at Tel Aviv University was established by Prof Isaac Wahl in 1970, with the goal of preserving the wild relatives of wheat and barley that have evolved and are grown in Israel. A germplasm collection was established with the aid of the Lieberman family, which holds over 17,000 live specimens representing the world’s largest and richest collection of wheat-related wild species.
Collectively, these plants contain the genetic material from which domesticated wheat first originated. The ICCI current goal is to use this germplasm in wheat improvement.

About IPK
The Leibniz Institute of Plant Genetics and Crop Plant Research, member of the Leibniz association, is a public non-university research institute with about 500 employees from over 30 nationalities. IPK`s mission is to study crop biodiversity for a better understanding of crop plant performance as a foundation for Bioeconomy in the time of global change. IPK is a leading institute in cereal genome analysis.

About Montana State University
Montana State University is a public institution that was founded in 1893. Created as a land-grant institution, MSU is among the top 3% of colleges and universities for research expenditures, and is also classified by the Carnegie Foundation as an institution with a high undergraduate profile. Research expenditures at MSU typically exceed $100 million annually and top research departments include immunology, chemistry and biochemistry, transportation, physics, and land resources and environmental sciences; while much of the research funding comes from the National Institutes of Health, Departments of Energy, Defense and Agriculture, and private sources.

About NRGene
NRGene is a genomic big data company developing cutting-edge software and algorithms to reveal the complexity and diversity of crop plants, animals, and aquatic organisms for the most advanced, sophisticated breeding. NRGene tools have already been employed by some of the leading seed companies as well the most influential teams in academia.

Media Contacts
CREA – Agricultural Research and Economics
Giuseppe Bruni
[email protected]
+39 0647836335

CNR National Research Council
Marco Ferrazzoli
[email protected]
+ 39 06 4993 3383

Monica Lacoppola
[email protected]
+39 051 2088664

IPK Gatersleben
Dr. Sabine Odparlik
[email protected]
+49-39482- 5427

Amy Kenigsberg
K2 Global Communications
[email protected]
+1-913- 440-4072 (+7 ET)
+972-9- 794-1681 (+2 GMT)

Daphna Tako

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