The sequence of the barley genome is reported in this week’s Nature. A notable and long-awaited community resource for cereal genetics and genomics, the genome will provide vital information for researchers who seek to improve and modify barley through breeding.
One of the first grains to be cultivated, today barley is a major cereal crop, widely grown in temperate regions. However, 80% of the barley genome consists of repetitive sequences and other features that make it hard to sequence.
Nils Stein and colleagues used a combined approach, including shotgun sequencing and a new method using chromosome-scale scaffolding, to produce a high-quality reference genome. This represents the first high-quality reference genome for a member of the Triticeae tribe - the group of plants that includes wheat and rye. To explore how the genome could be exploited for breeding, the authors sequenced and compared gene-coding regions of 96 European elite barley lines, characterized genetic diversity and identified regions showing signatures of intense selection, which may reflect breeding to produce different characteristics, such as for the production of malting versus feed barley.