Tamil Nadu Agriculture University (TNAU) scientist discovers domestication of barley

Tamil Nadu Agricultural University (TNAU) scientist along with a Japanese professor has identified the genes responsible for barley's 'domestication' that transformed this once-wild food grain into an item of mass consumption. Today, barley is the fourth most important crop in the world - both in the size of cultivation and grain production, and its high production is due to its domestication that happened 10,000 years ago.

"About 10,000 years ago, people identified barley as a food grain. And, then farmers started cultivating barley," said Senthil Natesan, professor and head of biotechnology department, Agricultural College and Research Institute, Madurai.

There was a problem with the wild variety. The spikes that contain the grain were brittle in the wild variety. "This brittle nature breaks the spike, and the grain falls on the ground. While this is essential for the proliferation of the crop, this made harvesting difficult," said Takao Komatsuda, senior researcher in the National Institute of Agro-biological Sciences (NIAS), Tsukuba, Japan. Komatsuda is the principle researcher in this project.

The wild variety underwent domestication, which helped farmers in cultivating barley. "Barley domestication occurred twice. The first was a natural mutation in one gene (Btr1), while an independent mutation in the other gene (Btr2)," said Senthil. This domestication resulted in the cell wall thickening, that induced flexibility in the spikes. "And, the spikes developed a non-brittle nature, and this prevented the grains from dispersing on the ground, a major relief for farmers," said Senthil.

Komatsuda, who has pursued extensive research on barley, plans to take this research forward. "Identifying new traits such as disease resistance, quality in the production of beer depending on breeding lineages will be the areas of future research. Also, the origin of cultivated wheat will be studied using the similar genes isolated in this study," he said.

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