USDA funds genetic mapping of barley

By Lorraine Heller

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags: Barley, Gene, Usda, Us

A $5m project aimed at identifying and improving the genetic
make-up of barley could lead to higher yields and a better quality
crop, said the US Agriculture Secretary Mike Johanns on Friday.

The new research project, funded by the US Department of Agriculture (USDA), is to involve scientists at 19 different institutions around the country.

The scientists hope to develop a genetic 'road-map' of barley and identify genes in the crop that are responsible for controlling yield, food and malt quality, and disease resistance.

"This research will help our producers increase their competitiveness by producing high yielding, high quality barley,"​ said Johanns.

"The knowledge acquired by this research will be provided to scientists, growers and industry breeders, continuing USDA's long history in promoting agriculture research,"​ he added.

Indeed, this is not the first time that scientists will be examining the genetic make-up of barley.

Last year, food and drink industry associations in the UK helped fund a £1.8m ($3.1m) research project aimed at identifying the most economically important genes in barley. The project, carried out at the Scottish Crop Research Institute, Birmingham University and the National Institute of Agricultural Botany (NIAB), hopes to produce its first results by the start of 2007.

The research on barley genes coincides with a mounting body of scientific evidence that has revealed the health benefits of consuming barley. These include helping to reduce cholesterol levels and other risk factors associated with excess weight and type 2 diabetes.

Indeed, earlier this year the Food and Drug Administration approved a health claim for use on products containing barley that states that these may help reduce the risk of heart disease.

The new research set to start in the US will be led by the University of Minnesota and will involve students in all aspects of the project in order to ensure the next generation of plant breeders is educated, said the USDA.

Scientists will use association genetics to identify genes linked to important traits in 10 breeding programs across the country. Association genetics deals with evaluating and measuring the degree of association between the molecular markers, or genes, and the traits of interest.

Extensive research to understand the genetic code of corn has already been conducted at the Genome Sequencing Center (GSC) at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis and at the University of Arizona.

And last year, Genaissance Pharmaceuticals, Monsanto and the Agricultural Research Service (ARS) formed a triple alliance to draw up a genetic map of the soybean.

Data and results from the current research on barley genes will be available to scientists, growers and industry through the project's public website at

Related topics: Cereals and bakery preparations, R&D

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