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The James Hutton Institute shares in £7 million cereals project

Photograph of glass of whisky and barley
Basically, when considering cereals, barley is grown where you can’t grow wheat.

The James Hutton Institute is to take part in two new research projects announced today. The aim will be to make an important contribution to global efforts to breed improved cereal crops.

The projects hope to shed further light on the genomes of wheat and barley, the two most widely grown cereal crops in the UK. Researchers hope that this will provide breeders with the tools to develop new varieties more quickly and efficiently and so help to provide sustainable and nutritious food for a fast-growing world population.

More than £7m will be invested in the two projects, both of which are funded by the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC). The sequencing facilities at The Genome Analysis Centre (TGAC) in Norwich will be used to work on both genomes.

Wheat and barley are the two most widely grown crops in the UK – wheat alone is planted on 60% of arable land – and they are of enormous value to the economy. However efforts to increase yields and to breed new varieties of these crops have not kept pace with other globally important cereals and this needs to be addressed if we are to feed a growing population sustainably.

The project will help generate new knowledge that will be used by the BBSRC- funded wheat germplasm improvement programme and by international collaborators, notably with the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center.

The Barley project will be led by Professor Robbie Waugh from the James Hutton Institute, Dundee, with partners at TGAC and EMBL-EBI. This new funding will help the UK team to coordinate international efforts to derive a high quality barley genome sequence, to transform this genomic information into a platform to understand barley genetic traits and ultimately to enable isolation of the underlying genes.

Because barley and wheat are closely related it makes sense that scientists at TGAC will work on them both together. Barley is often grown on arable land that isn’t suitable for wheat because it is better able to produce reliable yields in the face of drought and poorer soils. High quality barley is crucial for the highly profitable brewing and malting industries that consume around a third of grain crop every year, but the health benefits of eating barley are also well known.

Professor Waugh explains “Basically, when considering cereals, barley is grown where you can’t grow wheat”.  He believes that there is scope to use barley more widely as a food ingredient, for example as a partial replacement for wheat flour in bread or as a thickening agent in processed foods. “However, some of the qualities that make barley desirable as a food are essentially the opposite of those that breeders have traditionally focused on to meet the needs of the large, premium malting and distilling markets.”

The wheat genome research has been granted a BBSRC strategic Longer and Larger award (sLoLa). sLoLas provide internationally-leading research teams with the resources to conduct multidisciplinary research to address major global challenges.

There are more details on the BBSRC website.

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Printed from /news/7-million-cereals-project on 27/09/23 10:25:55 PM

The James Hutton Research Institute is the result of the merger in April 2011 of MLURI and SCRI. This merger formed a new powerhouse for research into food, land use, and climate change.