Geneticist Nils Stein from the Leibniz Institute for Plant Genetics tells Slate that having a better understanding of the barley genome could help the plant endure conditions brought on by climate change. In addition to being an important crop for the brewing industry, Stein notes that barley is also a key component of animal feed. The Leibniz Institute, Slate's Tim McDonnell says, is home to more than 20,000 barley seeds.
"The value of these genetic resources is immense," Stein tells McDonnell, adding that "if we understand the genetic basis of tolerance to cold climate, to drought, to heat, then we can also use this information as an input for more direct breeding or selection for these properties and improving our current cultivars."
Droughts and the corresponding decline of cereal crops like barley, but also wheat, McDonnell adds, have been linked to civil wars as well as skyrocketing prices, and he notes that the recent Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report says that droughts are likely to become more commonplace.