The Future Of Tasty Beer Lies In The Barley Genome

Barley Wine

Photo: Flickr/cogocogo

Next time you sit down with a frosty brew, remember the humble barley plant. Researchers have just decoded the plant’s genome, which could lead to tastier beers and make the crop more resistant to weather changes brought on by climate change.Barley is the world’s fourth most important crop. It’s used in making beer, whiskey, cereal, and much more.

Sequencing the barley genome has been difficult because it’s large — about twice the size of a human genome. Now, the team of researchers at The International Barley Genome Sequencing Consortium have put in the elbow grease and successfully constructed a high resolution draft of the genome, published in the journal Nature today, Oct. 17.

Barley is not just important in human booze consumption. Approximately three-quarters of the crop is used for animal feed and bedding. The genome provides essential information for research and breeding of barley and its relative wheat.

A statement from the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council, a UK group that invests in science, explains the findings:

Their publication provides a detailed overview of the functional portions of the barley genome, revealing the order and structure of most of its 32,000 genes and a detailed analysis of where and when genes are switched on in different tissues and at different stages of development.

They describe the location of dynamic regions of the genome that, for example, contain genes conferring resistance to diseases. This will provide a far better understanding of the crop’s immune system. The achievement also highlights with unprecedented detail the differences between several different barley cultivars.

“Access to the assembled catalogue of gene sequences will streamline efforts to improve barley production through breeding for varieties better able to withstand pests and disease and deal with adverse environmental conditions such as drought and heat stress,” study researcher Robbie Waugh of Scotland’s James Hutton Institute said in the statement. “Armed with this information breeders and scientists will be much better placed to deal with the challenge of effectively addressing the food security agenda under the constraints of a rapidly changing environment.”

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