Update on IGROW - International Genome Research on wheat.

Update on IGROW (International Genome Research on Wheat).

Bikram S. Gill, the Wheat Genetics Resource Center, Plant Pathology Department, Kansas State University, Manhattan, KS 66506-5502, USA.

I introduced IGROW in the 2002 Annual Wheat Newsletter (Vol. 48). I shall begin by reiterating the vision of IGROW, which is to

  • create a knowledge base on the genetics and biology of wheat plant,
  • sustain wheat genetic infrastructure and resources, and
  • serve as a platform for all wheat stakeholders.

Our immediate, urgent goal is to generate a draft sequence of the gene-rich regions of the wheat genome. Many people on behalf of IGROW have been very active in support of this mandate. I would like to update the activities of IGROW since mid-summer of 2002.

An important milestone last year was a series of meetings sponsored and/or organized by the interagency working group on plant genomes to decide on research priorties for the National Plant Genome Initiative (NPGI) for the next 5 years (2003­08). It should be noted that the first 5 years of NPGI-driven research, together with international initiatives and collaboration, has produced the complete genome sequences of Arabidopsis and rice, and EST resources for the major crop plants (http:/www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/dbEST). The National Academy of Sciences organized a workshop on the NPGI in June 2002 (The National Plant Genomes Initiative objectives for 2003­08 NRC Report are available online at http://www.nap.edu). The USDA­CSREES organized a stakeholders workshop on 'Plants and Pest Biology' in November 2002, where I represented IGROW, ASA­CSSA, and the National Wheat Improvement Council (NWIC). Rudi Appels, Dave Van Sanford (NWIC), Cal Qualset, and NAWG (National Association of Wheat Growers) provided statements supporting wheat genomics research (available at http://www.nap.aspb.org/publicaffairs/stakeholders/) . We discussed the IGROW mission at the U.S. Wheat Scab Initiative and NWIC meetings in December 2002. The culmination was a NWIC delegation led by David Van Sanford who visited the NSF to make a case for sequencing the wheat genome. Rudi Appels organized an IGROW meeting of international collaborators in San Diego in January 2003. These efforts have borne fruit, although we have a long way to go. The final report of the Interagency Working Group on objectives for 2003­08 was released in January 2003 (available online at http://ostp.gov/NSTC/html/NSTC_Home.html). Although the targeted species are rice and maize, the report mentions allocation of funds for 'highly accurate draft sequences of gene rich regions of several key plant species.' Also mentioned is IGROW, among others, as a part of an established network of international collaborations to advance genomics of various plant species. More important, both the USDA and NSF have agreed to sponsor a 'Workshop on Wheat Genome Sequencing' to be held on 9­11 November, 2003, in Washington D.C. (for more information contact bsgill@ksu.edu). This workshop will be preceded by a wheat genomics session in Italy during the 10th International Wheat Genetics Symposium 1-5 September, 2003 and is being organized by Rudi Appels, Olin Anderson, and Daryl Somers. The upshot of all these activities will be a document to be published by January 2004 that will provide a blueprint of an international plan for the sequencing of the wheat genome. Then, we can go to bat to seek funds for putting the plan in action.

In preparation for the workshop, we are required to take an inventory of the wheat genetic infrastructure and resources. We will soon be contacting you for information.

In the meantime, wheat genomics research is moving forward. The year 2003 was the last of a 4-year project funded by the NSF involving 10 universities on 'Structure and function of the expressed portion of the wheat genomes' (lead PI Cal Qualset, University of California, Davis) (http://wheat.pw.usda.gov/cgi-bin/westsql/map_locus.cgi). As a result of this project and ongoing work elsewhere, wheat now ranks number one in plants with over 400,000 ESTs (http:/www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/dbEST) and also is the most densely mapped genome with over 20,000 EST loci mapped on the 21 chromosomes of wheat (see project website). Another NSF-funded project entitled 'Insular organization of the D genome of wheat' (lead PI Jan Dvorak, University of California, Davis) is constructing a global BAC-contig map of the D genome of wheat that is anchored to the EST physical map of D-genome chromosomes (project website: http://wheat.pw.usda.gov/PhysicalMapping). Jorge Dubcovsky is a lead PI (University of California, Davis) on a USDA­IFAFS project 'Bringing Genomics to the Wheat Fields,' which involves most of the public-breeding programs in the U.S. (project website: http://maswheat.ucdavis.edu/Production.htm). Congratulations to Jan Dvorak and Shahryar Kianian (North Dakota State University,Fargo) for winning awards for virtual wheat center proposals in 2003 from the highly competitive NSF Crop Genome Research Program. Dvorak proposal will establish a virtual center at UC Davis in wheat SNPs, a new generation of markers. Shahryar's proposal will establish a virtual center in wheat mutagenesis and functional genomics at NDSU in Fargo. The abovementioned proposals are not only producing resources for the wheat genetics community, but have done much to bolster the position of wheat as a genetic model to those who view it just a commodity.

However, from the tone of discussions in prioritization process of the NPGI, it became clear that many in the scientific academic community view wheat as lacking in a vibrant genetics community and, thus, not worthy of major effort as a plant genetic model. They cite the maize genetics community who hold a large annual meeting once a year and use the Maize Newsletter as a research vehicle for the good of the genetics community. Historically, wheat genetics pioneers, including the late E.R. Sears, R. Riley, H. Kihara, and others who have retired (C. Law, E. Kerber, K. Tsunewaki, S. Maan, and R. McIntosh) were aware of this problem. They selected Chinese Spring as a genetic model, and started the tradition of international wheat genetics symposia beginning in 1958. This symposium is held every 5 years and in conjunction with the International Genetics Congress (although at different sites but within a span of 1-2 weeks between the two meetings) so that those wheat geneticists who wished to attend the International Genetics Congress were able to represent wheat genetics to the wider community. This real or perceived problem or lack of a more integrated and organized wheat genetics community was discussed at the NWIC meeting last year and already there is a plan to hold a national wheat workers meeting in February 2004 in Kansas City.

What else can we do? I think we have a window of opportunity to work as a more cohesive group as we move into wheat functional genomics research that will involve production and evaluation of a vast number of mutants in different ploidy wheats. These mutant resources will have to be screened for a variety of traits under diverse growth conditions and treatments. The genetic lesions underlying the targeted trait will have to be identified and relevant genes discovered rountinely in a community-wide effort. Herein then, we have an opportunity to involve diverse types of wheat expertise on a focused program, publish preliminary findings and insights in a vehicle such as the this Newsletter, and in the process transform it into a research vehicle in the service of wheat genetics community. On a final note, 2003 will go down as a milestone year with the reported cloning of Lr21 (Huang et al. 2003) and Lr10 and Pm3b (Beat Keller personal communication) genes and the identification of candidate clones for the VRN1 (vernalization, Yan et al. 2003) and Q (square spike, Faris et al. 2003) traits.


  • Faris JD, Fellers JP, Brooks SA, and Gill BS. 2003. A bacterial artificial chromosome contig spanning the major domestication locus Q in wheat and identification of a candidate gene. Genetics 164(1):311-321.
  • Huang L, Brooks SA, Fellers JP, and Gill BS. 2003. Map-based cloning of leaf rust resistance gene Lr21 from the large and polyploid genome of bread wheat. Genetcs 164(2):655-664.
  • Yan L, Loukoianov A, Tranquilli G, Helguera M, Fahima T, and Dubcovsky J. 2003. Positional cloning of the wheat vernalization gen VRN1. Proc Natl Acad Sci USA 100:6263-6268.