TNAU, Japanese professors unravel key genetic features of barley

Barley was the earliest domesticated crop in the world and the history of barley cultivation is much older than wheat


Tamil Nadu Agricultural University (TNAU) professor Natesan Senthil and a Japanese professor have together identified the genes responsible for barley's domestication that transformed this once-wild food grain into an item of mass consumption. Their research work was published in the journal Cell on July 30, 2015.

Barley was the earliest domesticated crop in the world and the history of barley cultivation is much older than wheat. However, two key, unanswered questions have been asked for a long time, namely - how did the grain dispersal mechanism of wild barley evolve and how often, and where was the dispersal mechanism lost during the process of domestication?

Takao Komatsuda of the National Institute of Agrobiological Sciences, Tsukuba, Japan and Kazuhiro Sato of Institute of Plant Science and Resources, Okayama University, Kurashiki, Japan led a group of international collaborators which include Natesan Senthil, Professor of Biotechnology, Tamil Nadu Agricultural University, in the discovery of two genes, Btr1 and Btr2 that are involved in grain dispersal in wild barley at maturity.

These genes facilitate seed dispersal, which is essential for the survival of the species, but at the same time it makes harvesting of large amounts of grain virtually impossible. Today, barley is the fourth most important crop in the world - both in the size of cultivation and grain production, and its high production is due to its domestication that happened 10,000 years ago.

Takao Komatsuda, senior researcher at the National Institute of Agro-biological Sciences (NIAS), Tsukuba, Japan, explained that there was a problem with the wild variety. The spikes that contain the grain were brittle in the wild variety. This brittle nature breaks the spike, and the grain falls on the ground. While this is essential for the proliferation of the crop, it made harvesting difficult.

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