A team at Kansas State University’s work with scientists from around the world has finally cracked the code for wheat genomics.

The Kansas State Feed the Future Innovation Lab for Wheat Genomics published an article Thursday — in collaboration with the International Wheat Genome Sequencing Consortium — in the journal Science describing the complete genome for wheat.

The K-State team worked with over 200 scientists from 73 research institutions in 20 countries to create the reference genome. The genome sequence will serve as a roadmap to the wheat plant, allowing for improved breeding to create wheat varieties with higher yields, improved stress resistance, higher quality and more.

“If we know what genes have favorable traits and where they are located in the genome, we can use DNA marker technology to select them,” said Dr. Jesse Poland, director of the Feed the Future Innovation Lab for Wheat Genomics. “This is kind of the roadmap or blueprint for that.”

The wheat genome consists of 21 chromosome pairs. The representation displays all the DNA and RNA across the genome.

Poland and the team at K-State have worked on the project for several years. Genome representations for crops like rice came earlier, but Poland said the wheat plant has taken time, as it’s a complicated organism.

“The wheat genome is more than five times bigger than the human genome,” Poland said. “So there’s a challenge when using the sequencing technology. We have to do short sequences and put them together to represent the whole genome.”

The team at Kansas State worked mostly on sequencing and ordering the genes on each chromosome.

“It’s been fun work,” Poland said. “Challenging for sure, but exciting to see it all come together in a big way.”

Poland also said this breakthrough would not have been possible without generous support from groups like Kansas Wheat, or without federal funding made available to support the project.