Researchers unravel Tibetan barley genome

By RJ Whitehead

- Last updated on GMT

Tibet is the world's biggest barley producer
Tibet is the world's biggest barley producer

Related tags: Gene, Dna

Scientists in southern China have mapped the Tibetan highland barley, the country’s staple food, for the first time. 

Researchers at BGI Tech Solutions published the draft genome in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences this week, saying their work would help cultivate better strains and increase yield.

Explaining their process, the scientists, led by Zhao Shancen, assembled 3.89bn of an estimated 4.5bn base pairs of the chemicals that make up the DNA of the barley genome, and included almost 39,200 protein coding genes.

Base pairs are the building blocks of DNA, with the size of an organism’s genome measured by the number of bases it contains. Wheat, for example, has around 17bn base pairs, while soybean has around 1.1bn.

Zhao said the research could allow scientists to adapt the barley so more could be grown in extreme environmental conditions.

Highland barley, known in Tibetan as "ne", has been grown on the Qinghai-Tibet Plateau for nearly 4,000 years. It makes up 70% of all cereal crops in the Tibet, which is the world's leading barley producer.

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