Scientists have identified the genes responsible for visible differences in barley, which could help unravel the genetic code for valuable traits including yield, quality and disease resistance.
The group of researchers at NIAB TAG have identified stretches of barley DNA code that control a range of characters, from the eye-catching variations in barley awn-pigmentation to the shape and the structure of the ear, fundamental to differences in yield.
In one case, the group showed that the absence of purple pigment, or anthocyanin, in the plant is probably controlled by a natural mutation within a gene thought to regulate the pigment’s biosynthetic pathway.
“Barley does not yet have a complete genome sequence available, but by combining association mapping with comparative analysis of gene content in related plant species, we’ve been able to focus in on the likely genetic variant that determines whether barley can produce anthocyanin,” said NIAB plant scientist James Cockram.
Study leader in NIAB’s genetics and breeding research programme Donal O’Sullivan added: “By showing that we can use approaches from human genetics and apply them successfully in crops, we will now be able to investigate the natural genetic variation that controls agronomically important traits in barley, as well as other crops.
“This includes tackling complex traits geared to providing better information and improved varieties to farmers in the future,” says Dr O’Sullivan.