“No, it really wasn’t driven from a particular agricultural problem. It was driven from the standpoint that having this basic information would help breeders with any problem they approach. It will provide them with more detailed markers within the genome to help them evaluate sensitivity – or resistance in the case of rust.

“So, the reasons for getting into the research were broader.

“I’m a chemistry and computational guy – not a breeder. But, in general, when people do crosses they’ll identify strains that are more or less resistant. Being able to more precisely understand the mechanisms of that in terms of what genes are involved and where they are.

“One of the things the study did is provide a good, although not perfect, view of the wheat genome. It’s certainly the best view we have so far.

“That will help identify the genes contributing to resistance. It will also provide around 100,000 markers for more precise mapping locations within the genome when crosses are made. That way breeders can tell which component genome is present in each of the crosses.”

Did the sheer size of the genome surprise you?

“We actually knew that going in.

“To be candid, I was surprised it worked as well as it did. I knew it was a tremendous challenge and we’d get a pretty good, valuable view of the total gene content. The work done by the computational people, particularly in Germany, really gave a much better view of the genome.

“Wheat is a hexaploid genome, so it came from three precursor diploid genomes about 10,000 years ago when it was domesticated. The computational team was able to do a much better job than I expected at separating the three copies of each of the genes. They compared the diploid relatives of the wheat and other species.

“I knew that would work somewhat – it was a great idea. But the success they had was marvelous.”

Wheat has five times the amount of DNA in the human genome?

“The weed we worked with in the 1990s has about 135 million bases. Rice has about 400 million bases. Humans and corn are both, roughly, around 3 billion bases.

“Wheat has about 16 billion bases. So, it’s much bigger than the human genome. The fact that it has three copies of a related 5 billion base genome that was hybridized to domestic wheat was a real technical challenge to separate those out computationally.

“The other thing that was difficult with the wheat genome is that about 80 to 90 percent is made up of repeats of a relatively small number of sequences. Those are very difficult to deal with computationally, as well.”