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K-State involved in landmark study of wheat’s wild ancestor

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There’s no doubt that a lot went into deciphering all 10 billion letters in the genetic code of a wild ancestor of wheat, but that’s exactly what an international team of researchers has done.

The breakthrough work, which was done with the help of Kansas State University, was published in the July 7 issue of Science Magazine.

“The relative of wheat is called wild emmer, which is one of the founding crops of human society,” said Eduard Akhunov, professor of plant pathology and wheat genomics at Kansas State University. “Wild emmer was one of the first crops that was domesticated 10,000 years ago, which was a critical step in moving from hunting and gathering to an agricultural society.”

By knowing the genetic code of wild emmer, scientists can now compare its DNA to modern varieties to fully understand how wheat has evolved over thousands of years. With that information, they can better understand the genes that provide important traits such as drought and heat tolerance, or resistance to various diseases and pests.

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