Scientists from KAUST and international partners have sequenced the genome of einkorn, the world's first domesticated wheat species. AgTech; AgriTech; Indoor Farming; Agriculture; Vertical Farming; Food; Crop News; Plant Science
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Unleashing the Potential of Einkorn

In a groundbreaking achievement, a team of scientists from King Abdullah University of Science and Technology (KAUST) and six other countries has successfully sequenced the genome of einkorn, the world’s first domesticated wheat species. This momentous breakthrough promises to revolutionize wheat breeding, with potential benefits ranging from improved nutrition and disease resistance to better adaptability to climate change and a burgeoning global population.

Einkorn, with its remarkable history of domestication dating back approximately 10,000 years in the Fertile Crescent, is an invaluable genetic resource for the enhancement of wheat cultivars. Over millennia, both nature and human intervention have meticulously selected the best genes for this species, endowing it with unique agricultural advantages. With the einkorn genome now fully sequenced, scientists can identify the genes responsible for crucial agricultural traits, ultimately accelerating the development of superior wheat varieties.

Published in the prestigious journal Nature, the recent study presents the most comprehensive version of the einkorn genome to date. The research team employed long-read sequencing to capture the entire 5.2 gigabases of the genome, unearthing critical details about previously unexplored regions, including elements vital for the plant’s cell division and growth, such as the centromeres.

Moreover, the sequencing analysis divulged that genetic material from diverse wild einkorn lineages integrated into the genome of domesticated einkorn, equipping it to adapt to climates beyond the Fertile Crescent. The study also shed light on how genetic material from einkorn entered the genome of bread wheat, underscoring the einkorn genome sequence’s role as a valuable resource for wheat breeding.

This newfound genomic knowledge holds immense potential to elevate agricultural practices and enhance wheat species worldwide. By identifying crucial genes responsible for nutrition, disease resistance, and other vital traits, researchers and farmers can develop wheat varieties better suited to address the challenges of modern agriculture.

“The results of this study will accelerate the improvement of wheat species,” stated KAUST Professor Jesse Poland, one of the study’s co-authors. “Putting together the entire genome is a great scientific accomplishment, but the applied value of these genomes is immense as our interest is to develop improved wheat varieties to increase production and food security, something all nations will need to consider as the global population grows and the climate changes.”

In addition to its potential agricultural impact, the study also sheds light on the evolutionary journey of wheat. Understanding the genetic history and adaptations of this ancient crop will play a pivotal role in developing new wheat varieties better equipped to withstand the challenges posed by a changing climate.

Dr. Hanin Ahmed, who spearheaded this research, earned her doctorate through this groundbreaking work and is now contributing her expertise to the University of Toulouse, France, courtesy of an Ibn Rushd fellowship from KAUST. These prestigious fellowships are awarded to exceptional young scientists across the country, empowering them to conduct scientific research anywhere in the world.

KAUST, established in 2009, is a pioneering graduate research university committed to tackling some of the world’s most pressing scientific and technological challenges, particularly in areas like food and health, water, energy, the environment, and the digital domain. With its curiosity-driven, interdisciplinary problem-solving environment, state-of-the-art laboratories, distinguished faculty, and talented students, KAUST has become a hub for cutting-edge research and innovation.

Furthermore, KAUST’s inclusive approach attracts minds from more than 120 different nationalities, fostering a vibrant, diverse community that collaborates to advance research and scientific breakthroughs. The university’s endeavors have resulted in novel patents, innovative products, enterprising startups, regional and global initiatives, and fruitful collaborations with other academic institutions, industries, and Saudi agencies.

The successful sequencing of the einkorn genome by the team of scientists from KAUST and international partners marks a turning point in wheat research. The newfound genomic information will undoubtedly catalyze innovation and progress, leading to the development of more robust and resilient wheat varieties capable of meeting the world’s increasing demand for food in the face of climate change and a growing population. This momentous achievement reaffirms KAUST’s commitment to advancing knowledge and finding solutions to global challenges, emphasizing the critical role of science in shaping a sustainable future.

Photo by Evi Radauscher on Unsplash 

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