The new genes, Btr1 and Btr2, are completely new genetic discoveries and according to Geoff Fincher from the University of Adelaide, they will revolutionise what we know about the domestication of the crop.
“This latest genomic information and the potential to introduce as yet unused wild barley traits may offer great new potential in our barley breeding programs,” said Emeritus Professor Fincher, who co-authored the study.
The study was initiated in Japan by a group of geneticists at the Okayama University Institute of Plant Science and Resources and was led by Professor Takao Komatsuda of the National Institute of Agrobiological Sciences.
Discoveries related to the brittle rachis show that there is a distinct difference between cell wall thickness in brittle and non-brittle plant types, which determines whether wild barley drops its grain to the ground at maturity or retains it in the ear.
“The Japanese geneticists found that the cell walls were much thinner in brittle crop and much thicker in non-brittle crop. With the latter the grain didn’t fall off naturally when the plant dried out,” Professor Fincher said.
This characteristic originally benefited the barley plant because it helped in dispersing the seed and the natural spreading of the species.
After the Japanese geneticists had proved the gene formation was linked to the brittle characteristic, they now want to see the relationship between the cell wall and other characteristics.
Professor Finch said that although the discoveries have the potential to create possibilities in barley breeding processes, the findings have a largely agricultural interest.
“The genes are an exciting new genetic discovery however it is also about the anthropology and domestication of barley as a widely cultivated and consumed grain.”