Landmark study generates first genomic atlas for global wheat improvement

Landmark study generates first genomic atlas for global wheat improvement
Curtis Pozniak in wheat field. Credit: Christina Weese/USask

In a landmark discovery for global wheat production, a University of Saskatchewan-led international team has sequenced the genomes for 15 wheat varieties representing breeding programs around the world, enabling scientists and breeders to much more quickly identify influential genes for improved yield, pest resistance and other important crop traits.

The research results, just published in Nature, provide the most comprehensive atlas of wheat genome sequences ever reported. The 10+ Genome Project collaboration involved more than 95 scientists from universities and institutes in Canada, Switzerland, Germany, Japan, the U.K., Saudi Arabia, Mexico, Israel, Australia, and the U.S.

“It’s like finding the missing pieces for your favorite puzzle that you have been working on for decades,” said project leader Curtis Pozniak, wheat breeder and director of the USask Crop Development Centre (CDC). “By having many complete gene assemblies available, we can now help solve the huge puzzle that is the massive wheat pan-genome and usher in a new era for wheat discovery and breeding.”

Scientific groups across the global wheat community are expected to use the new resource to identify genes linked to in-demand traits, which will accelerate breeding efficiency.

“This resource enables us to more precisely control breeding to increase the rate of wheat improvement for the benefit of farmers and consumers, and meet future food demands,” Pozniak said.

One of the world’s most cultivated cereal crops, wheat plays an important role in global food security, providing about 20 percent of human caloric intake globally. It’s estimated wheat production must increase by more than 50 percent by 2050 to meet an increasing global demand.

In 2018 as part of another international consortium, USask researchers played a key role in decoding the genome for the bread wheat variety Chinese Spring, the first complete wheat genome reference and a significant technical milestone. The findings were published in the journal Science.

“Now we have increased the number of wheat genome sequences more than 10-fold, enabling us to identify genetic differences between wheat lines that are important for breeding,” Pozniak said. “We can now compare and contrast the full complement of the genetic differences that make each variety unique.”

Nils Stein of the Leibniz Institute of Plant Genetics and Crop Plant Research (IPK) and project co-leader from Germany said, “Given the significant impact of the Chinese Spring reference genome on research and application, it is a major achievement that just two years later we are providing additional sequence resources that are relevant to wheat improvement programs in many different parts of the world.”

The 10+ Genome study represents the start of a larger effort to generate thousands of genome sequences of wheat, including genetic material brought in from wheat’s wild relatives.

The research team was able to track the unique DNA signatures of genetic material incorporated into modern cultivars from several of wheat’s undomesticated relatives by breeders over the century.

“These wheat relatives have been used by breeders to improve disease resistance and stress resistance

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Stewart Jewelry, a College Park landmark, is closing as the owner retires

Stewart Jewelry, a landmark business in the College Park business district, is closing, but it’s not because of the economic havoc caused by the coronavirus pandemic.

Instead, its second-generation owner, Phyllis Stewart-Tuell, is retiring after accepting an offer for the building.

“The party had to end sometime,’’ said Stewart-Tuell, who will turn 70 in April. “My mother always told me, ‘Do what you can when you can.’’’

She said she couldn’t disclose the price for the property because the deal had yet to close, but that the new owner would honor the leases of the surrounding businesses.

Stewart Jewelry, at 2212 Edgewater Drive in the Orlando neighborhood, debuted in 1946 with Stewart-Tuell’s parents, Burnett and Edith Stewart, at the helm. Stewart-Tuell started working at the small shop in 1977.

The store features a signature neon sign that Stewart-Tuell said she hoped could be preserved by the Orange County History Museum or some other organization.

Having a business in the same place for 74 years has meant serving older residents, their children, and, of late, their grandchildren, she said.

“Everyone is asking, ‘why are you leaving?’’’ she said. “It’s just bittersweet.”

On the store’s Facebook page, one longtime customer wrote, “Almost every piece of jewelry on my body and in my jewelry box are from your store. I have always been confident that it would be everlasting and it has been, and I will hand the jewelry down to my grandchildren.”

The pandemic initially did hurt the store’s sales, she said, but after cutting back on hours, receipts essentially returned to normal.

The store has started an “everything must go” sale with 30%-60% off its entire inventory.

Stewart-Tuell said she expected Stewart Jewelry to be open until at least the end of the year but perhaps into spring.

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Closing Australia’s education divide will take a generation, landmark study finds

One of the most comprehensive studies of Australia’s education system has found postcodes and family backgrounds impact the opportunities available to students from pre-school to adulthood, with one in three disadvantaged students falling through the cracks.

Sergio Macklin, the deputy lead of education policy at Victoria University’s Michell Institute, authored Educational Opportunity in Australia, which calls for immediate extra resources to help disadvantaged, Indigenous and remote students.

“Educational success is strongly linked to the wealth of a young person’s family and where they grow up,” Mr Macklin said.

“I think Australia’s really letting down students from low-income families, Aboriginal students and those in remote areas.”

The report critiques progress on last December’s Alice Springs Education Council meeting where, in the wake of Australia’s poor performance against its international counterparts, education ministers pledged to deliver a system that produced excellence and equity.

Last year’s poor results on equality of education have now been exacerbated by remote learning, with some students without internet or stability at home falling weeks behind their peers.

“The children and young people that were being worst served by the education system are probably the ones that are being most affected by it,” Mr Macklin said.

“So you’ll see employment stress in families dramatically increased student vulnerability.”

The report followed the progress of more than 300,000 students from school entry through primary school, into high school and onto early adulthood.

Its author believes the problem will take a generation to fix.

The report found disadvantaged students were more than twice as likely as their peers to not be in study or work by the age of 24.

The national average of students missing out on either work or study is 15 per cent, but this rises to 32 per cent of students from the lowest SES backgrounds, 38 per cent from very remote areas and 45 per cent among Indigenous young people.

“I think what this report highlights is that we’re losing young people’s opportunities in adulthood — and that’s a real problem for young people,” Mr Macklin said.

“But it’s also a real problem for Australia. It puts a handbrake on our recovery efforts from the COVID recession.”

Bucking the trend

About half an hour outside of Canberra, in regional New South Wales, 14-year-old Caitlyn, 16-year-old Iliana, 13-year-old William and their mother Mem are bucking the trend, with the help of the Smith Family.

They are members of a proud Indigenous family originally from Djangadi country, in far north-eastern NSW.

Remote learning has been a battle for everyone, but getting it done in a two-bedroom apartment which houses three teenagers and their single mum has come with its own challenges.

Even getting a desk was a major hurdle.

“I worried were they going to bicker,” Mem said.

“How do all of us get enough space? Because there’s nowhere to get away to and you weren’t really allowed outside.

William sleeps in the lounge room and his bedroom became a school headquarters of sorts.

“I’m in the lounge

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