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Newly cloned gene key to global adaptation of wheat

l Research Center in Albany, Calif., Dubcovsky's group has already produced a transgenic winter wheat that flowers 42 days earlier than the non-transgenic line.

Wheat has developed into one of the world's most important crops. It is estimated by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations that wheat now provides 23 percent of the food available for daily human consumption around the world.

Wheat is grown not only by such leading producers as China, the European Union, the United States, India and Canada, but also by more than 70 developing nations and on six continents, according to CIMMYT -- The International Wheat and Maize Improvement Center. Although it originated in the mild climates of the Middle East, wheat is now cultivated throughout a wide range of temperatures and environments.

This climatic adaptability is, in large part, responsible for wheat's success as a source of food for both humans and livestock. And key to this adaptive ability is the biological process of vernalization. Winter wheat, for example, requires several weeks of low temperatures, usually in the range of 40-50 degrees, in order to flower and eventually produce grain. This cold-weather requirement prevents flowers from developing during winter when they might be damaged by the cold.

In addition, this vernalization system is very flexible. During the domestication of wheat, barley and other temperate cereals, different loss-of-function mutations occurred in the vernalization genes and were selected by humans, resulting in spring varieties better adapted to certain regions.

Last year, Dubcovsky and colleagues reported detailed genetic and physical maps for the VRN1 region in wheat, rice and sorghum. By comparing the sequences from these species, they determined that the wheat VRN1 vernalization gene was involved in the regulation of the transition from vegetative to reproductive growth. This gene i
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Contact: Pat Bailey
pjbailey@ucdavis.edu
530-752-9843
University of California - Davis
11-Mar-2004


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