Researchers from Olomouc laboratory of IEB ASCR contribute to discovery of new wheat gene

Photo: IEB AS CR
Monday 8 February 2021, 13:26 – Text: R. Kvasničková, M. Šaradínová

More efficient gene transfer from wild species to wheat and acquisition of new varieties with unique properties will be enabled by the identification of an important Ph2 wheat gene. Apart from French and Australian researchers, experts from the Olomouc Laboratory of the Institute of Experimental Botany of the Academy of Sciences of the Czech Republic (IEB AS CR) have significantly contributed to the discovery published in Nature Communications.

The genetic information of wheat contains 124 thousand genes, which is almost six times more than in humans. Most of them have not yet been described and their function is unknown. This was also the case with the so-called Ph2 gene, which scientists have not yet been able to identify. After almost seven years of "detective" efforts, the success was celebrated by an international research team, which together with Olomouc scientists consisted of experts from the INRAE Research Center in Clermont-Ferrand and the University of Adelaide. The newly identified Ph2 gene is extremely important because it is responsible for the proper functioning of chromosomes during germ cell formation.

"This gene ensures stability of the whole genome. Wheat was formed by crossing three species of grasses, and therefore contains three sets of very similar chromosomes. If the chromosomes do not pair properly during the formation of germ cells, this would have adverse consequences for the plant. Therefore, we consider the identification of Ph2 gene to be a great success, which will lead to a much easier transfer of genes from related wild species to wheat," said geneticist Jan Bartoš, leader of the research group at the IEB AS CR.

The identification of the gene was preceded by rigorous work

Finding and describing the Ph2 gene has been complicated because it is difficult to observe. The scientist literally had to go through rigorous work.

"We had to cross each plant with a related species, in our case rye. We had to wait for the hybrid to grow, and then examine its anthers in the developing flowers under a microscope. This is the only way to find out if the chromosomes pair correctly or not. This phase alone took us about three years. It was also difficult that we were not sure whether we would be able to find the desired gene at all," said Radim Svačina from the Olomouc laboratory of the IEB AS CR. The full article is available here.

The discovery will be used by breeders in practice

Researchers anticipate that the properties of Ph2 gene will soon be used by breeding companies, which will be able to breed rare cultivars with extraordinary properties much faster and easier.

"Modern varieties have lost important characteristics over many years of breeding, which we can now return to them. Wild relatives of wheat have a huge storehouse of genes that affect, for example, the plant's resistance to disease, drought or soil salinity. Other genes are responsible for the content of healthy substances, such as fiber, betaglucans and antioxidants. This is extremely important at this time, when it is necessary to increase yields and quality of cultivated crops and thus ensure sufficient food for the growing world population," explained Jaroslav Doležel, plant geneticist and head of the Olomouc laboratory of the IEB AS CR. According to him, a big advantage is also that genes with the desired properties can be transferred to wheat in a natural way, i.e. by conventional crossing.

Researchers have been studying hereditary plant information for a long time

The Olomouc Center for Structural and Functional Plant Genomics of the Institute of Experimental Botany of the ASCR is a partner of the Centre of the Region Haná for Biotechnological and Agricultural Research (CRH) and focuses on studying the structure and function of hereditary plant information, especially cereals, bananas and grasses. It uses the latest methods of cytogenetics, molecular biology and genomics and participates in international projects aimed at reading genetic information of important crops and the isolation of important genes. It is a globally recognized workplace under the leadership of plant geneticist Professor Jaroslav Doležel, holder of the highest Czech scientific award Česká hlava and scientific director of CRH, who has developed unique methods and procedures and whose results contribute to the breeding of new varieties of agricultural crops with required properties.

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