Treasure hunt in the rye

Scientists from the Julius Kühn-Institut in Quedlinburg are protecting the future of rye bread. Behind this simple mission statement lies some highly complex plant research

Scientists from the Julius Kühn-Institut in Quedlinburg are protecting the future of rye bread. Behind this simple mission statement lies some highly complex plant research. The team under breeding research scientist Dr. Bernd Hackauf has set itself a difficult task: they are working on mapping the rye genome. “We want to understand which parts of the genome are responsible for specific qualities,” he explains. “Like detectives looking for the genetic fingerprint of the culprit at the scene of a crime, we are on the hunt for the genetic fingerprint of rye plants.”

The researchers’ goal is to find varieties of rye with specific characteristics. “The rye genotype has ‘hidden treasures’, for example genes resistant to diseases and stress-tolerance genes that ensure that the grain can also flourish on dry, sandy and poor soil,” explains Bernd Hackauf. To allow these treasures to be used for breeding, he and his research team have been working for a number of years on various projects to investigate the genetic make-up of rye. “It’s like a jigsaw puzzle: we break up the DNA of a rye plant into its constituent parts and then fit them back together.”

The scientists are working in networks ‑ for example with the Institute of Crop Plant Research in Gatersleben, the Technische Universität and the Helmholtz research centre in Munich. “Solving such a complex problem on our own is just not feasible,” says Hackauf. The breeding researchers reached a key milestone back in 2013: they established the position and sequence of over 22,000 rye genes, on which basis they were able to publish a model of the rye genotype.

Yet their work is by no means done. Read here how the team focuses on finding those aspects of the rye genome that contain the dispositions for desired quality characteristic.

Since 1 May and 31 October Saxony-Anhalt showcases at the world exhibition EXPO Milano 2015 as a centre of innovation of plant research. Saxony-Anhalt will present itself as an innovative and sustainable region in the heart of Germany, rich in culture and with much to see and experience. Visitors can discover a cross-section of this diverse state, as an attractive place for business, research and tourism. The cultural highlight in Saxony-Anhalt’s activities will be the “federal state days” from 27 to 31 May.


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“We are providing the scientific basis for continuing, ongoing improvement to rye in future. We also want future generations to be able to enjoy a great rye or rye mix bread.”
Dr. Bernd Hackauf