The gene of wheat has finally been decoded, and a blueprint of it has been made by an international consortium of scientists, in which three Indian institutes were major contributors.
The international consortium, International Wheat Genome Sequencing Consortium (IWGSC), said in a press release that they have cracked the genetic code of the wheat and have created the blueprint of genetically advanced wheat crop that could be resistant to insects, diseases, droughts, and could also generate a greater quantity.
"Bread wheat is a major crop. It is the most widely grown crop around the world and is a staple food for one-third of the human population," said Frédéric Choulet, Plant Genomist, French National Institute for Agricultural Research (INRA).
"However, its genome is so complex that it has always been perceived as impossible to sequence. Wheat improvement is crucial to ensure food security and the development of sustainable agriculture in a context of climate change and growing population," Choulet explained.
The three institutes that contributed to this research were – Delhi University, National Research Centre on Plant Biotechnology in New Delhi and Punjab Agricultural University in Ludhiana. These institutes were given support by the Department of Biotechnology (DBT). The Indian contingent was handed over the responsibility of trying to decode a chromosome named 2A.
"This is a major landmark towards obtaining a complete reference sequence. The transportation from lab to field will take some more years," Dr Kuldeep Singh, Project Coordinator of India, told Hindustan Times. "But this will go a long way in improving productivity, improve resistance of the crop to diseases and help in tolerance to drought and heat."
The genome of wheat is around 40 times larger than the genome of rice, around seven times larger than that of corn, and around five times larger than the genome of human beings, according to Reuters.
The research, which was published in the Science journal, also shows this genetic blueprint is applicable to almost all the genes found within bread wheat. The researchers believe there are around 124,000 genes present in wheat.
With the human population anticipated to grow to more than 9 billion by the end of 2050, feeding every mouth on the planet would become a huge problem. This huge demand could also cause large-scale inflation to the price of essential food commodities throughout the world. The dwindling water resources could also compound this problem manifold.
The scientists believe the food crop production needs to increase by at least 50 percent to meet the world's needs by the year 2050. With a plant that needs less water, and is resistant to external insects and internal diseases, the scientists could be well on their way to eradicate hunger in the world.