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Cereal genetics

Photograph of barley growing in a field
research is targeted towards identifying key regions of the barley genome that affect economically important characters and regions of the wheat genome that affect distilling quality.

Barley is the fourth most important small-grained cereal crop, with worldwide annual production generally in the range of 130 to 150 million tonnes. Barley is, however, the dominant arable crop in Scotland, being grown on just under 300,000 ha over the last three years with an annual production in the order of 1.7 million tonnes.

Worldwide, most of the crop is used for animal feed but its use in malting, principally for brewing and distilling use, consumes some 15% of the annual production. By contrast, the uptake for malting in Scotland is far greater at between 40 and 50% of the total production. The principal varieties bought by maltsters ex harvest 2007 were Optic and Oxbridge, both of which being particularly suited to the requirements of the distilling industry.

Photograph of a wheat fieldWinter wheat is the second most important arable crop in Scotland, being grown on around 100,000 ha annually but with production exceeding 800,000t for each of the last three years. The distilling industry requires some 500,000t of wheat annually for grain whisky production and thus is a major consumer of the Scottish wheat crop. The best varieties for distilling use, for example Consort, Glasgow, Alchemy and Zebedee, have a soft endosperm texture and belong to either the NABIM Group 3 or Group 4 classification.

Breeding new barley and wheat varieties in the UK is conducted by the commercial sector. The James Hutton Institute’s research is targeted towards identifying key regions of the barley genome that affect economically important characters and regions of the wheat genome that affect distilling quality. Identifying these regions provides routes to developing markers that can be used by breeders in genotypic selection, a technique known as Marker Assisted Selection (MAS). In addition, it is the first step in locating the underlying genetic factors that affect these key characteristics.

See below for information on some highlighted topics.

Staff working in cereal genetics:

Joanne RussellLuke Ramsay, William Thomas, Robbie Waugh, Kelly Houston

Research

Areas of Interest


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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.