Scientists sequence 39,000 genes to find complete barley genome

Better brewing may be on the horizon after nearly a decade of research.

An international team of scientists have unraveled the genome of barley. Not only could this achievement lead to tastier beer and whiskey, but a clearer understanding of other staple food crops.

“This takes the level of completeness of the barley genome up a huge notch,” said Timothy Close, a genetics professor at the University of California, Riverside, who participated in the project. “It makes it much easier for researchers working with barley to be focused on attainable objectives, ranging from new variety development through breeding to mechanistic studies of genes.”

Barley is one of the most widely grown and consumed crops across the globe, by both humans and animals. Its importance stretches back some 10,000 years, and by improving our understanding of this valuable crop, farmers can grow varieties more selectively to help feed a growing world population.

The completed sequence can help to improve the overall quality of barley crops by identifying parts of the genome that might be holding breeders back, and showing them which genes they should be searching for.

With approximately 39,000 genes — almost twice as many as there are in the human genome — it took a team of 77 scientists 10 years to piece together the plant’s entire sequence.

What exactly did the researchers find? Well, to be used in alcoholic drinks, barley is malted, which means its grains begin to germinate while soaking in water, but the process is stopped mid-way by having the seeds dried out. Malting produces amylase proteins to decompose starches in the grain, which in turn produces some simple sugars. Looking at the complete barely genome sequence, scientists found that there was far more variability than expected in the genes that encode the amylase proteins.

The research can also help scientists who work with other cereal crops, like rice, wheat and rye.

The full research paper can be found here.

 To learn more about Neogen’s plant genomics solutions, click here.

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