Turning up the heat on cereal genome

01 February 2009


It's clear that the global climate is changing, and this is having a big impact on food supplies.  For example, if the climate changes in a major crop-growing region, it may not be possible to grow that crop successfully any more. So scientists are investigating whether people living in dry regions - that are only getting drier - can grow alternatives to wheat and other food crops.

Sorghum (Sorghum bicolor) on a field near Fada NOne such alternative is a plant called sorghum. This is a type of grass that originally came from Africa, and it grows well under hot and dry conditions.  Now farmers in warm parts of America, Asia and Europe are growing sorghum for food and animal fodder, as well as for using in biofuels.  Not only that, but it can be burnt to provide energy.

It sounds like an all-round wonder-plant, and in order to uncover the secrets to its versatility and hardiness, researchers in Munich have analysed the whole sorghum genome. This is the first time the genome of a plant of African origin has been sequenced.

Publishing their results in the latest issue of the journal Nature, the scientists say that their results will help us understand more about how plants like sorghum resist drought and high temperatures, and could help with the development of hardier versions of other crops in the future.

And the new data will also enable researchers to compare the genome of sorghum with rice and maize, two important crop plants that have had their genomes sequenced. This will tell us a lot about how crop plants evolve, and the genes that give them their specific properties.


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