Barley genome breakthrough might lead to better, cheaper beer

Scott Sutherland
November 5, 2012

Scientists with the International Barley Genome Sequencing Consortium have recently completed their work sequencing the barley genome, which is even larger than the human genome.

The goal of this research is to gain a better understanding of barley and how to make its cultivars — the various types of barley that have been selectively grown for their specific characteristics — higher in dietary fibre, more resistant to diseases and climate change, and possibly to create better or less-expensive beer.

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The data, published last month in Nature, is a draft-work, showing that roughly two-thirds of the total sequence of genes has been mapped. Nils Stein (what a great name for a barley researcher!) is head of the Leibniz Institute of Plant Genetics and Crop Plant Research (IPK), and the lead researcher of this work. He hopes that this will give them a better knowledge of how gene expression is controlled in the barley plant, which could lead to ways for plant breeders to have more control over them in the production of new cultivars.

Stein and his team also compared the genomes of two-row barley and six-row barley. Two-row barley is lower in protein content than six-row barley, and is traditionally used for English ales and German beers, whereas six-row barley is used in American lagers, especially when corn or rice are used as adjuncts. They found that many of the active genes of these cultivars are located where they are not accessible when using selective breeding methods, however according to Popular Science, Stein says that gene modification techniques might be used to specifically target those genes.

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This completed sequence may also make an excellent model for understanding more complicated genome sequences, like that of wheat, which could then lead to better disease resistance and environmental tolerances for one of the most important staple foods we grow.