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Genotyping technologies help keep UK barley market competitive


By exploiting technology originally used in human genome studies, a public-
private partnership programme is changing the way in which commercial barley
breeding is being conducted. Findings from this four-year research project are
highlighted in the latest issue of Business, the quarterly highlights magazine
of the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC).

High quality barley production underpins the UK’s 20 billion pound malting,
brewing and distilling sectors, including the 4 billion whisky industry, the
UK’s biggest food and drink export.

To maintain and increase competitiveness in these sectors improved barley
varieties that continually outperform their predecessors are vital which is why
the Association Genetics of UK Elite Barley (AGOUEB) project was developed and
funded by BBSRC, Defra and the Scottish Government through the Sustainable
Arable LINK programme. The project brought together a consortium of breeders and
geneticists, together with representatives from the barley supply chain, to
develop and utilise powerful genotyping technologies in a new ‘association
mapping’ approach to genetic analyses.

Professor Robbie Waugh, project leader from the Scottish Crop Research Institute
(SCRI), explains: “AGOUEB is testimony to the value of having a longer-term
vision and investment in crop science. By developing and using this new
technology we have gained a much better understanding of what combinations of
genes are required to make a good UK barley variety and we are working with the
breeding community to improve economically important characteristics such as
yield and resistance to pests and disease.”

The partners in AGOUEB developed a genetic marker technology that allows
thousands of genes located in specific segments across the barley genome, to be
characterised in a single experiment at a tiny fraction of the cost of previous
approaches. They then used this technology to determine the detailed genetic
make-up of around 1000 barley cultivars and correlated the genetic make-up
surrounding each genetic marker with a range of traits. By doing this AGOUEB has
been able to identify segments of the barley genome that contribute positively
to a broad range of characteristics. It has even allowed them to isolate a gene
involved in plant pigmentation and another in determining floral structure.

“This aspect of the project is important because it provides both molecular
diagnostics that can be efficiently used in plant breeding and a DNA sequence
template for discovering natural gene variants that may perform better than
those currently available,” explains Professor Waugh.

The breeders involved in AGOUEB are now investigating innovative ways to use the
data generated in the project to increase the speed and precision of improved
barley cultivar development.

Commenting on the research, BBSRC Chief Executive Professor Douglas Kell, said:
“This invaluable research highlights the huge benefits of scientists and
industry joining forces and working across traditional boundaries. Developing
new breeds of barley has important implications for the UK economy as well as
paving the way for improving other crops which could have huge benefits for
tackling issues such as global food security.”

This research features in the Summer 2010 issue of Business, BBSRC’s research highlights magazine.

To read the full article, visit:

The consortium of breeders and geneticists involved in AGOUEB are: SCRI, The University of Birmingham, NIAB, UK-EU breeders (KWS-UK, LS Plant Breeding, Nickerson/Limagrain, Secobra, Syngenta, Svalf Weibull), Home Grown Cereals Authority, Maltsters Association of Great Britain, Brewing Research International, Coors Brewers & the Scotch Whisky Research Institute.

BBSRC is the UK funding agency for research in the life sciences. Sponsored by Government, BBSRC annually invests around 470 million in a wide range of research that makes a significant contribution to the quality of life in the UK and beyond and supports a number of important industrial stakeholders, including the agriculture, food, chemical, healthcare and pharmaceutical sectors.

BBSRC provides institute strategic research grants to the following:
The Babraham Institute, Institute for Animal Health, Institute for Biological, Environmental and Rural Studies (Aberystwyth University), Institute of Food Research, John Innes Centre, The Genome Analysis Centre, The Roslin Institute (University of Edinburgh) and Rothamsted Research. The Institutes conduct long- term, mission-oriented research using specialist facilities. They have strong interactions with industry, Government departments and other end-users of their research.

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