Scientists crack wheat's genetic code

Wheat husks wait to be harvested at the start of harvesting in Chebsey near Stafford, United Kingdom.

TEXT OF STORY

BOB MOON: British researchers have successfully mapped the genetic makeup of wheat. And they've released the raw data today.

The BBC's Rebecca Singer reports now on how the scientific breakthrough could help wheat farmers around the world.


REBECCA SINGER: Cracking the genetic secrets of this humble plant means scientists can now start to develop wheat crops better able to cope with harsh conditions. We've already seen the effect of droughts and wildfires on the price of wheat this summer. Russia banned sales of wheat to other countries -- in an attempt to keep the cost of bread under control.

Professor Mike Bevan is director of the John Innes Centre in Norwich, which worked on the project. He says the breakthrough will also help farmers increase production...

MIKE BEVAN: Because in the next 20 or 30 years there will be many more mouths to feed in the world and wheat has a very important role to play in feeding the world's population.

And doing that will also help stabilize food prices. It's predicted that within the next 40 years, world food production will need to increase by 50 percent.

And other scientists say this breakthrough gives companies the tools to breed new plants using either conventional techniques or genetically-modified technologies.

But if you ever thought wheat was a simple crop, just think -- its genetic code is five times larger than humans.

In London, I'm the BBC's Rebecca Singer for Marketplace.

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