Sequencing our way to food security - Activate World

Sequencing our way to food security


A consortium of more than 200 scientists from 20 countries published the first fully annotated sequence of the bread wheat genome, a feat that should reduce food scarcity on our planet. Wheat is the most widely cultivated crop in the world, accounting for about a fifth of all calories consumed by humans and more protein than any other food source.

More nutritious and resilient wheatis needed to withstand predicted climate change and meet the food demands of a population projected to reach 9.6 billion by 2050. To meet this challenge, wheat researchers from around the world formed the International Wheat Genome Sequencing Consortium (IWGSC)in 2005. It has taken 13 years to complete the fully annotated reference genome.

The bread wheat genome is the most complicated plant genome to be sequenced to date, said Kellye Eversole, director of the IWGSC, who oversaw the project. The grain’s genome is exceedingly long — 40 times longer than the rice genome and five times longer than the human genome. It’s also extremely complex, consisting of three distinct subgenomes and containing many repetitive sequences.

Wheat is grown on more acres than any other crop on the planet due to the fact that it is an especially flexible plant. For example, although bread wheat originated in the Middle East, it also grows well in the cold, damp climates of Europe and Canada. Today, China is the largest wheat producer and consumer and the Chinese annual wheat production is about 100 million tons.


  • The genome of an organism is similar to a detailed roadmap, containing all of the information needed to build and maintain that organism.
  • Now that scientists and farmers know the genes and factors responsible for wheat’s yield, grain quality, resistance to fungal diseases, and tolerance to environmental stress, they will be able to produce hardier wheat varieties.
  • According to the World Food Programme (WFP), an estimated 124 million people in 51 countries are currently facing crisis food insecurity or worse.

Quest and Actions (Q&A):

  • What can business leaders and governments do to provide better aid responses to undernourished countries such as Yemen that includes development work and political solutions to end conflicts?
  • What can be done to ensure the safety of “genetic modified organisms (GMOs)” to solve world food shortages?
  • Gene editing of organisms encode DNA with a selected-for-trait, which propagates to future generations and across entire populations very quickly. But there’s a risk of spreading unwanted mutations and crossbreeding the change into another species.What are the ethical considerations for using a new technology before we really understand the implications?
Sources: Fast Company, Los Angeles Times, Nature, ScienceDirect,The Guardian
Photo by Melissa Askew on Unsplash