Exposing Wheat's Genetic Secrets
By Marcia Wood
September 21, 2007
Every day, bakers from coast to
coast make fresh, fragrant loaves of bread for us to enjoy. Wheat flour, of
course, is a star ingredient in many of the most popular breads.
The work of tomorrow's millers and bakers might be made much easier by
studies under way at the Agricultural Research Service (ARS)
Regional Research Center in Albany, Calif. There, scientists like plant
geneticists Olin D.
Q. Gu are tackling some of the mysteries surrounding wheat's genetic
Their discoveries may one day help millers provide bakers with flour that is
both consistent and predictabletwo highly prized traits. These superior
flours would consistently make doughs that have the optimal balance of strength
and elasticity. That could, according to Gu, take away the need to blend
various different floursa costly, sometimes frustrating task for today's
Gu, Anderson and others in the
and Gene Discovery Research Unit at Albany are exploring wheat's remarkably
complicated, mostly undeciphered genetic makeup, or genome. Wheat is a complex
union of three ancestral grass genomes that together make the wheat genome
hugeabout 10 times the size of the human genome, according to Anderson.
The Albany researchers are hunting for naturally occurring differences in
the order of appearance, or sequence, of the infinitesimally small
unitscalled "nucleotidesthat make up genes. The differences
that they're interested in are known as "single nucleotide
polymorphisms," or "SNPs" (pronounced "snips") for
Though tiny, SNPs are not trivial. In wheat plants, a SNP might mean the
difference between having high amounts of a protein important in
breadmakingor very low amounts of it. Single-nucleotide variations could
affect genes for many other key wheat-plant traits, such as resistance to
insects or diseases.
more about the research in the September 2007 issue of Agricultural
ARS is the U.S. Department of
Agriculture's chief scientific research agency.