Researchers have discovered a new wheat gene that helps the plant adapt to different climates and maximise grain production.
The newly characterised VRN-D4 gene and its three counterpart genes which were earlier identified are crucial for understanding wheat vernalisation, the biological process requiring cold temperatures to trigger flower formation, the study said.
“The VRN-D4 gene and the other three vernalisation genes can be used by plant breeders to modify vernalization requirements as they work to develop wheat varieties that are better adapted to different regions or changing environments,” said study first-author Nestor Kippes from University of California, Davis in the US.
Wheat first appeared about 8,000 years ago in the coastal area of the Caspian Sea, where Europe and Asia converge. It quickly spread through both continents and now grows worldwide.
Scientists attribute its adaptability to its rapidly changing genome and the fact that most types of wheat have two or three sets of chromosomes.
“We are extremely interested in understanding the adaptive changes, especially vernalisation, which occurred in wheat during the early expansion of agriculture,” Kippes noted.
Because vernalization governs flowering time, it is important to a plant’s reproductive success and key to maximising grain production in wheat, barley and other cereal crops, Kippes explained.
Although the world produces more than 700 million tonnes of wheat annually, the rapidly growing global human population continues to press for even greater production of wheat and other staple crops.
The study was detailed online in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.