A joint team from NRGene and Tel Aviv University has completed the mapping of the wild Emmer wheat genome in just one month, giving a significant boost to global research into crop improvement, improving global wheat yields and helping combat the world food crisis.
Wild Emmer, the progenitor of today’s durum and bread wheat varieties, was one of the first crops to be domesticated about 10,000 years ago in the Middle East. According to Dr. Gil Ronen, CEO of NRGene, "Mapping the Emmer genome in Israel brings everything full circle. Aaron Aaronson identified the variety in Rosh Pina in 1906 and proved that Emmer wheat was the basis for the development of cultivated wheat."
Dr. Assaf Distelfeld and other scientists at Tel Avi University have been working on wheat improvement for more than 10 years. "Mapping Emmer wheat is critical to global wheat research as it is the direct ancestor of cultivated wheat," said Dr. Distelfeld, head of the Emmer wheat consortium. "With a genome map of Emmer wheat, scientists at universities, global seed research centers, and the major seed companies will be able to breed seeds with higher yields, better disease resistance, and more adaptability to extreme growing environments, such as drought or extreme heat conditions."
For example, wild Emmer wheat is rich in nutrients such as iron and zinc, and can be naturally crossed with cultivated wheat. Transferring this trait to bread could reduce malnutrition among those whose diet is based on this staple crop.
"The repercussions of the mapping will be felt around the world," continued Dr. Distelfeld. "Scientists will now be able to identify key genes in the Emmer wheat and introduce them into commercial wheat via classical breeding, creating hardier varieties across environmental conditions, ultimately increasing the global food supply."
Researchers participating in the program represent leading universities in Israel and across the globe, including Tel Aviv University, Hebrew University, Weizmann Institute of Science, University of Haifa, Ben Gurion University, and the Volcani Institute for Agricultural Research in Israel; United States Department of Agriculture; University of California, Davis; University of Illinois; University of Minnesota; University of New Hampshire; Sabanci University in Turkey; and IPK and MIPS research institutes in Germany.
NRGene, located in Ness Ziona, Israel, is a genomic big data company developing cutting-edge software and algorithms to reveal the complexity and diversity of plants and animals for the most advanced computational breeding. NRGene tools are already been employed by some of the leading seed companies as well the most influential teams in academics and NGOs.