U.S. Department of Agriculture scientists, working as part of an international team, have completed a shotgun sequencing of the wheat genome, a paper published in the journal Nature reported Nov. 28.

The achievement is expected to increase wheat yields, help feed the world and speed up development of wheat varieties with enhanced nutritional value, USDA said.

“By unlocking the genetic secrets of wheat, this study and others like it give us the molecular tools necessary to improve wheat traits and allow our farmers to produce yields sufficient to feed growing populations in the United States and overseas,” said Catherine Woteki, USDA’s chief scientist and under secretary for research, education and economics.

“Genetics provides us with important methods that not only increase yields, but also address the ever-changing threats agriculture faces from natural pests, crop diseases and changing climates.”

Olin Anderson and Yong Gu, scientists with USDA’s Agricultural Research Service based at the agency’s Western Regional Research Center in Albany, Calif., played instrumental roles in the sequencing effort, along with Naxin Huo, a post-doctoral researcher working in Gu’s laboratory. All three are co-authors of the Nature paper.

ARS is USDA’s principal intramural scientific research agency, and the work supports the USDA goal of ensuring global food security.

As the world’s largest agricultural research institute, USDA is focused on reducing global hunger by increasing global cooperation and collaboration on research strategies and their implementation. For example, through the U.S. government’s Feed the Future initiative, USDA and the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) are coordinating their research portfolio with ongoing work of other donors, multilateral institutions, and government and non-government entities at the country level to effectively improve agricultural productivity, reduce food insecurity and generate economic opportunity.

Grown on more land area than any other commercial crop, wheat is the world’s most important staple food, and its improvement has vast implications for global food security. The work to complete the shotgun sequencing of the wheat genome will help to improve programs on breeding and adaptation in Asia and Sub-Saharan Africa for wheat crops that could be drought tolerant and resistant to weeds, pests and diseases.