Two new barley plant genes discovered

By / 30th of July, 2015

A GROUP of international researchers have discovered two new genes in the barley plant that will shed light on the history of agriculture and also bring new capabilities to barley breeding programs.

The new genes, Btr1 and Btr2, are completely new genetic discoveries and according to Emeritus Professor Geoff Fincher from the University of Adelaide in South Australia, they will revolutionise what we know about the domestication of the crop.

“This latest genomic information and the potential to introduce as yet unused wild barley traits may offer great new potential in our barley breeding programs,” said Professor Fincher, who co-authored the study from the Australian Research Council (ARC) Centre of Excellence in Plant Cell Walls at the University’s School of Agriculture, Food and Wine.

The study was initiated in Japan by a group of geneticists at the Okayama University Institute of Plant Science and Resources and was led by Professor Takao Komatsuda of the National Institute of Agrobiological Sciences.

Discoveries related to the brittle rachis show that there is a distinct difference between cell wall thickness in brittle and non-brittle plant type, which determines whether wild barley drops its grain to the ground at maturity or retains it in the ear.

“The Japanese geneticists found that the cell walls were much thinner in brittle crop and much thicker in non-brittle crop. With the latter the grain didn’t fall off naturally when the plant dried out,” Professor Fincher says.

This characteristic originally benefited the barley plant because it helped in dispersing the seed and the natural spreading of the species.

“After the Japanese geneticists had proved the gene formation was linked to the brittle characteristic, they wanted to see the relationship between the cell wall and other characteristics.

Australian Research Council (ARC) Centre of Excellence in Plant Cell Walls specialises in cell wall data so they partnered with the Okayama University Institute of Plant Science and Resources and the National Institute of Agrobiological Sciences to look further at the cell composition of the barley plant and the disarticulation zone.

Professor Finch says that although the discoveries have the potential to create possibilities in barley breeding processes, the findings have a largely agricultural interest.

“The genes are an exciting new genetic discovery however it is also about the anthropology and domestication of barley as a widely cultivated and consumed grain.”