The International Wheat Genome Sequencing Consortium (IWGSC) is nearing the completion of successfully mapping the highly complex bread wheat genome, a step that scientists hope will accelerate crop research and improve wheat production.

The task of sequencing the wheat genome has been challenging due to its ploidy (i.e., hexaploidy – three genomes) and its enormous size (about 17 gigabases of mostly repetitive sequences), roughly five times the size of the human genome.

Thanks to Illumina high throughput sequencing technology coupled with NRGene bioinformatics, whole genome sequencing has been achieved at a reduced cost and at a quality that will now enable scientists to complete the reference genome sequence of bread wheat. The IWGSC has produced a whole genome assembly of the bread wheat variety Chinese Spring working exclusively with Illumina DNA sequence reads assembled with NRGene’s DeNovoMAGICTM software.

By integrating this assembly with the chromosome based physical maps, sequences, markers and genetic maps created by the consortium collaborators over the past 10 years, the IWGSC expects to have the complete picture of how the genes and regulatory elements are ordered within less than two years, down from an estimated three years.


“Scientifically, this is a huge breakthrough,” said Mike Thompson, director, agrigenomics market development for Illumina. “This project demonstrates the powerful combination of Illumina sequencing technology and NRGene DeNovo Magic algorithm to assemble one of nature’s most complex genomes. Having access to a high-quality reference wheat genome enables better building of genomic tools to facilitate breeding programs designed to achieve higher yielding wheat production around the world.”

Bread wheat makes up 95 percent of the world’s wheat crops, with 550 million tons consumed per year, making it the staple food for 35 percent of the world’s population. Of all major crops, wheat is the only major crop that does not have an ordered genome sequence, which has slowed identification of genes and regulatory elements underlying agriculturally important traits.

With a projected world population expected to exceed 9.6 billion by 2050, experts say wheat production must increase to meet future population demands. Having the complete genetic data from wheat will enable scientists to breed hardier, higher producing varieties that can be sustainable in drought, disease pressure or other environmental factors.

Results of this new approach will be presented at workshops at the Plant & Animal Genome Conference in San Diego from January 9 to 13. All data will be available in the IWGSC wheat sequence repository at URGI-INRA.