Towards a better beer - Czech scientists map the barley genome
News Jul 27, 2011
Via Radio. cz - 27-07-2011 15:58 | Christian Falvey
Czech scientists working with an international team of experts have successfully finished mapping the barley genome. In a process of more than ten years, it was unique Czech technical breakthroughs that allowed the five billion letters of the barley genome to finally be deciphered. The new knowledge will not only enrich the understanding of genetic evolution but will also mean real benefits for cultivators in terms of higher yields and more resistant crops. Christian Falvey spoke to Jaroslav Doležel of the Institute of Experimental Botany in Olomouc to find out more.
“I should say that this was an international collaboration, so there were important contributions from laboratories in Germany, Japan, Scotland and some other countries. So it was a collaborative effort, but one in which our laboratory played a major role, because we came up with a strategy for analysing the very complex genome in a way that was more precise, more efficient and more direct.”
What does that strategy consist of exactly?
“Well it was our own strategy and in fact we are the only laboratory in the world that can do it. We developed a method of technology to isolate chromosomes – individual chromosomes – from important plants. So the chromosomes are part of the genetic information – each carries only a part of the genetic information – so by isolating one chromosome we can dissect the genome into small parts, and study those fractions individually. So that means a great simplification, a reduction of complexity.”
The barley genome is almost twice as long as the human genome, while only having seven, rather than 23, chromosomes; how is that possible? Is there an extra-ordinary amount of excess genetic information?
“I think this is still not well known. Many plant species have genomes, or genetic information, that is more complex than humans. Wheat has a genome six times larger than a human’s. There are many species that have moiré complex genomes. It is not because they contain more genes, but because they contain so-called non-coding DNA. There are other types of DNA present in the genome that have multiplied in the course of their evolution.”
What could that kind of DNA potentially be telling the organism?
“Many things. Some of this non-coding – or sometimes people use the expression ‘parasitic’ – DNA, sometimes it has been incorporated in genes. So our genes would not be the same without the presence of this, originally parasitic, DNA. Some of seems to remain parasitic without any function in the genome. So there are some functions that are important for the organism, some functions that we don‘t know about, and maybe some of this DNA has no function at all.”
So the barley genome has now been mapped, what benefits can that bring?
“I should specify that what we have done is identify almost all of the genes in the barley genome and positioned them on chromosomes or chromosome arms. So now we know what genes are there and where they are. The next step is to link the genes with traits of interest, for instance resistance to diseases, pests, or qualitative traits, yields etc. So it is important information that will help breeders to breed faster and better and scientists who study the evolution of the genome and the function of the genomes.”
China is poised to introduce a new regulation on gene editing in humans. A draft of the country’s new civil code lists human genes and embryos in a section on personality rights to be protected. Experiments on genes in adults or embryos that endanger human health or violate ethical norms can accordingly be seen as a violation of a person’s fundamental rights.READ MORE