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Scientists sequence wild grass species

An international research team has successfully sequenced the wild grass Brachypodium distachyon, a grass species related to major cereal grains like wheat, barley and oats. Published in the journal Nature, the study's findings are part of the EU-funded AGRON-OMICS ('Arabidops...

An international research team has successfully sequenced the wild grass Brachypodium distachyon, a grass species related to major cereal grains like wheat, barley and oats. Published in the journal Nature, the study's findings are part of the EU-funded AGRON-OMICS ('Arabidopsis growth network integrating omics technologies') project, which received EUR 12 million under the 'Life sciences, genomics and biotechnology for health' Thematic area of the EU's Sixth Framework Programme (FP6). Some grass species play a pivotal role in meeting our food supply needs. We have also seen a surge in the domestication of new grass crops for feedstock production and sustainable energy. Experts say, however, that failure to understand how genes work and a lack of knowledge about their large and complex genomes lead to obstacles that restrict crop improvement. By sequencing B. distachyon, the researchers shed light on how grass genomes develop and expand. The study was led by the John Innes Centre in the UK, Oregon State University in the US, and the US Department of Energy Joint Genome Institute and US Department of Agriculture. The researchers said the results of their study indicate how Brachypodium distachyon can be used to navigate the closely related yet far larger and more complex genomes of wheat and barley. 'Our analysis of the Brachypodium genome is a key resource for securing sustainable supplies of food, feed and fuel from established crops such as wheat, barley and forage grasses and for the development of crops for bioenergy and renewable resource production,' explained Professor Michael Bevan of the John Innes Centre. 'It is already being widely used by crop scientists to identify genes in wheat and barley, and it is defining new approaches to large-scale genome analysis of these crops, because of the high degree of conserved gene structure and organisation we identified.' The team said what is also unique about Brachypodium distachyon is that it develops quickly but also grows compactly, thus making it a perfect candidate for laboratory studies. 'Scientists can now use genetic resources we are developing in Brachypodium to determine the functions of genes involved in grass crop productivity,' said Dr Philippe Vain from the Department of Crop Genetics at the John Innes Centre, who is also heading a programme that targets providing researchers with resources to identify gene functions. 'This has the potential to accelerate research in sustainable food production and in new sources of energy,' he added. Also contributing to this study were scientists from Belgium, China, Denmark, France, Germany, Poland, South Korea, Switzerland and Turkey. The Flanders Interuniversity Institute for Biotechnology in Belgium is coordinating the AGRON-OMICS project that kicked off in 2006 and is scheduled to end in 2011. This Integrated Project brings together 14 partner laboratories from 6 European countries including France, Germany, Spain, Switzerland and the UK.

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