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article imageThe genome of barley reveals secrets of better beer

By Tim Sandle     May 1, 2017 in Environment
The beer and whisky industry represents big business and there are regular inquiries for improving efficiency. Recent details on the genome of barley, the most commonly used ingredient for the drinks, could help.
Recent research from University of California – Riverside, together with a group of 77 other scientists, have sequenced the complete genome of barley. This should offer insights into the production of both beer and single malt Scotch.
Barley (Hordeum vulgare L.), a member of the grass family, is a major cereal grain grown in temperate climates globally. Barley has been around for thousands of years and the use of the crop by humans dates back at least 10,000 years, including early fermented beverages and as an animal feed. Barley has many uses today, being found in breakfast cereals and flour; its use in brewing and with the manufacture of whisky. With malting, amylase proteins are produced by germinated seeds. These decompose into energy-rich starch. The starch yields simple sugars. These sugars are then fermented by yeast to produce alcohol. The type of grain is important and with beer barley is key, giving beer its color, body and head.
Such is the importance of barley that it became the subject of study for the International Barley Genome Sequencing Consortium. The aim was a complete gene sequence of the cereal crop. This complex task took ten years to complete; this was partly due to the barley genome being twice the size of the human genome. The task was helped by advanced computer algorithms.
The barley genome sequence has allowed researchers to identify which gene families are important for the malting process necessary for the production of beer and whisky. The study has further allowed the scientists to identify the regions of the genome vulnerable to genetic weaknesses. Understanding this latter point should help researchers to optimize genetic diversity to improve crops.
Commenting on the research, Professor Timothy Close, who led the U.S. team, said: “This takes the level of completeness of the barley genome up a huge notch.” He added: “It makes it much easier for researchers working with barley to be focused on attainable objectives, ranging from new variety development through breeding to mechanistic studies of genes."
The research into barley also acts as a foundation for examinations of other cereals, like rice, wheat, rye and maize. The experimental findings have been published in the journal Nature. The research paper is titled “A chromosome conformation capture ordered sequence of the barley genome.”
More about Barley, Genome, Gene sequencing, Beer, Whisky
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