The UK Barley Genome Sequencing Consortium is part of a global effort to produce more resilient and higher yielding varieties of this important crop, resistant to pests and diseases.
The work in the UK is funded by the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council and the Scottish Government.
Why is sequencing the barley genome important?
Archaeological evidence shows that barley, together with wheat, was domesticated c. 10,000 years ago in the Fertile Crescent region of Western Asia and Northeast Africa. Natural variation in barley germplasm and subsequent breeding means that it is suitable for cropping throughout the world, showing a good level of adaptability to adverse environments like cold and drought, or poor soils, and is considered more tolerant than other cereals to difficult growing conditions.
Barley is the fourth ranked cereal crop produced in the world and the second in terms of harvest in UK agriculture. It is an essential component of the whisky and beer industry that is worth more than £20 billion alone to the UK economy. In addition, it is a major contributor to animal feed and is still a significant calorie and roughage source in the human diet in several parts of the world.
To face the challenges of feeding a growing population and the impacts of climate change, the intelligent implementation of genomics knowledge to improve crop performance is paramount. The systematic generation and study of the barley genome sequence and identification of genes responsible for important traits, will allow researchers and breeders alike improve the quality and yield of the crop and help fight diseases.
Due to its simple inbreeding diploid genetics barley is an excellent experimental model for the Triticeae, a tribe that also includes other cereals such as wheat and rye, which have more complex polyploid genomes and genetics.
For all these reasons, the availability of a reference genomic sequence for barley will provide a precious resource for academics and plant breeders worldwide.