An analysis of the genome of ancient Egyptian emmer wheat provides new insights into the evolutionary history of a progenitor of the world's most widely grown crop, hexaploid bread wheat. In the study, which appears in Nature Plants this week, a team led by scientists from University College London sequenced the genome of a 3,000-year-old emmer specimen held in the institute's Museum of Egyptian Archaeology. They find that its genome shares haplotypes with modern domesticated emmer at loci that are associated with shattering, seed size, and germination, as well as other putative domestication loci, suggesting a common origin of these traits before emmer's introduction to Egypt. The researchers also find evidence of gene flow between wild Southern Levant emmers and ancient Egyptian emmer. The work, the authors write, demonstrates "the importance of museum collections as sources of genetic data to uncover the history and diversity of ancient cereals."
Plant scientists from the US and Europe present an overview of genetic strategies for improving crop yields amid the stresses of climate change in Nature this week. "The Green Revolution of the 1960s enabled a steep increase in the yields of major staple grain crops (wheat, corn, and rice) to address the caloric needs of an increasing global population," they write. Future food security, however, will require the use of new technologies to address crop losses driven by shifts in pests and pathogens, precipitation, heat waves, and other weather extremes tied to climate stress. "The current timeline for increasing the resilience and sustainability of crops is too long," the authors say, calling for an increased focus on ways to boost plant yields in variable environments. "A greater understanding of plant mechanisms that increase yields in variable environments is essential to drive the necessary gains in crop improvement, which can be fuelled by genetic diversity and implemented by genome-scale breeding, finely-tuned gene engineering, and more-precise agronomic management practices."