While domesticated plant varieties suffer from deficits in the face of diseases and climate change, their wild origins are still resilient in the environment under conditions of water scarcity or extreme heat, in addition to disease resistance, which made researchers realize that these wild assets - which we see in deserts and do not pay attention to - may be key to securing the food of the future, especially "bread wheat".

First genomic map

Bread wheat evolved over thousands of years of hybridization between 3 wild origins, reaching the form we know now, and "Monococcum" wheat is one of the three origins that make up the genome of bread wheat, and it is also believed that "Incorn" wheat or what is known as "single grain wheat" has evolved from it.

About a year ago, a research team from King Abdullah University of Science and Technology (KAUST) led by Brandi Wolf, associate professor of plant science in the university's Department of Biological and Environmental Science and Engineering, announced that it had successfully transferred a gene that protects against one of the most serious wheat diseases, known as "black leg rust," to bread wheat, after identifying it in one of the wild wheat roots, the herb Egelops charonensis.

Understanding the genetic diversity and evolutionary history of single-grain wheat helps in genetic improvement efforts (Getty Images)

In a study published in the journal Nature in August, the team, led by three researchers from the university's Plant Science Program, Jesse Bolland, Michael Abrock and Simon Krattinger, announced that they had successfully compiled the first complete genomic map of Encron beans, dating back more than 3,10 years, in the fertile regions of the Middle East, where they began to be cultivated.

Says geneticist and plant breeder research team for "Jesse Bolland" Dr. Ibrahim Bassiouni, in statements over the phone to Al Jazeera Net, that "success in understanding the genetic diversity and evolutionary history of single-grain wheat will help researchers to benefit from its genetic potential in future genetic improvement efforts to develop wheat varieties supernatural be more resilient in the face of diseases and climate change."

Genetic scraping

Modern bread wheat was subjected to what Bassiouni called "genetic dredging" due to the focus of ancient farmers and plant breeders in the modern era on specific varieties that carry genes that achieve certain advantages, whether in productivity or disease resistance, and this was at the expense of other varieties, and with time the genetic diversity of bread wheat declined, which exposed it to climate changes and threats of new diseases, so the solution was to resort to wild wheat varieties such as single-grain wheat to obtain new sources of resistance to diseases and climate changes.

Al-Bassiouni likens this situation to a "stressed land" that has been bulldozed as a result of cultivation for decades, so it began to lose its nutrients, and virgin land that has not been cultivated before and still retains its nutrients, and says that "Enkron is like virgin land, it still maintains its genetic diversity, while bread wheat has lost its genetic diversity, focusing from year to year on specific varieties and not others."

One of the reasons Enkron has been given the advantage of genetic diversity is that despite its unique flavor and high nutritional benefits, over thousands of years it has gradually lost its role in global food production, with bread wheat rising in popularity.

Bread wheat carries 6 copies of "chromosomes" that make it very difficult to produce a "complete genomic map of it" (Getty Images)


While wheat bread carries 6 copies of "chromosomes" make it very difficult to produce a "complete genomic map of it", the binary "chromosome" enkron greatly facilitated the task of producing "the first complete genomic map for him", as he tells Al Jazeera Net Dr. El-Sayed Mohamed Meshahit, plant pathology teacher at the Faculty of Agriculture at Damanhour University in Egypt and consultant at the International CABI Foundation.

The clear understanding of the plant shown by the researchers in the study heralds their subsequent success in employing its genetic abilities to serve bread wheat in its battle with climate change and various pathogens.

One of the things that the researchers showed in their study, revealing their understanding of the genetic diversity of this plant, was that they succeeded in identifying a mutation in one of the genes responsible for the lack of branching in single-grain wheat, and that 1% of the genome of modern bread wheat came from single-grain wheat.

A KAUST press release likened this genetic transition to what happens in the human genome: "Just as the human genome contains sequences from our Neanderthals cousins, the genome of modern bread wheat is also filled with DNA residues from single-grain wheat," the statement said.

Simon Krattinger, one of the leaders of the research team, said: "Single-grain wheat genes may have in the past helped bread wheat adapt to changing climatic conditions, and if history has any indication, the same could apply to the future, especially with the help of modern breeding techniques that are partially targeted."

Techniques available to leverage one plant's genes into another plant are "hybridization," gene transfer, and gene editing (Getty Images)

Three techniques

In general, the techniques available to harness the genes of one plant in another plant are traditional breeding (hybridization), gene transfer, and the newer technique of "gene editing" known as CRISPR-Cas9.

The representative of the International Center for Agriculture in Arid and Arid Regions (ICARDA) in Egypt, Alaa Hamwia, told Al Jazeera Net that the first method depends on the hybridization of traditional agricultural crops such as bread wheat with those of the wild species such as "Incorn" or "Egylops charonensis", in order to get wheat resistant to insects, diseases and climate changes.

As for the method of "gene transfer", it is done through two means, the first is done using plant pathogens such as bacteria, where the required gene is loaded on it after weakening it, so as not to cause the plant to become sick, and the other depends on the "gene cannon" where gold particles that carry the required gene are released into plant cells.

The third method is CRISPR-Cas9 or 12, a technique that gives scientists the ability to alter an organism's DNA by adding desirable traits or removing certain traits at specific sites in the genome.

Hamwieh says KAUST's success in identifying specific genes in wild plants may enable them to use the latter, the most recent, method that overcomes concerns about the harms of genetic engineering.

"This method allows genes to be inserted in a controlled manner at specific locations in the genome and not randomly, as in traditional genetic engineering methods, reducing the risk of untargeted and unknown damage."