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New Method for Associating Genetic Variation with Crop Traits

23 July 2012

The technique, published in the journal Nature Biotechnology, links important agronomic traits in crop plants with active regions of the genome. Instead of requiring knowledge of the crop’s complete genome, it identifies only expressed genes.

“For many crop plants, markers are still lacking because of the complexity of some plants’ genomes and the very high costs involved,” said Professor Ian Bancroft, who led the study at the John Innes Centre. “We have succeeded in developing markers based on the sequences of expressed genes, widening the possibilities for accelerated breeding through marker assisted selection.”

Expressed genes are converted from genomic DNA to mRNA. Working with mRNA means that there is no need to generate a complete genome sequence from DNA, making the techniques applicable to a wide range of crops, even those with complex genomes, such as oilseed rape and wheat. It also enables the development of advanced marker resources for less studied crops that are important for developing countries or have specific medicinal or industrial properties.

In an example of such an application, the researchers are now working with plant breeding company Limagrain to produce reliable markers for hybrid performance in oilseed rape. Marker-assisted breeding for this complex trait has previously been unsuccessful due to a lack of available markers and appropriate technology.

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