The world population is growing and so is the demand for food. With arable land being limited it is essential to develop new crop varieties that meet those increased needs for food supply. MADS-box genes encode a large transcription factors family, members of which are involved in virtually every developmental process in plants. Most importantly, many MADS-box genes are involved in flowering time control, flower development and fruit development, they do therefore constitute excellent targets for increasing yields in crop plants. Indeed, a number of studies have shown that certain MADS-box gene alleles were selected during domestication of wheat, tomato or date palms (to mention but a few – an article on the importance of MADS-box genes for plant domestication is on our to-do list). However, in contrast to well-studied model plants like Arabidopsis thaliana and rice, the function of MADS-box genes in crops like wheat and barley is relatively unexplored.
In this project, we will make use of our experience on working with MADS-box genes in Arabidopsis to study allelic diversity of this gene family in wheat. The exome of a number of wheat varieties has been sequenced and we will identify allelic variation in the coding sequence of MADS-box genes on a family-wide level. The function of the different domains of MADS-box genes is relatively well understood. Moreover, phylogenetic relatedness to characterized genes from model plants and gene expression patterns are good proxies to infer the function of a particular gene. Together, these data will serve to predict whether an allelic variation is a promising candidate for improving wheat yields. Subsequent biochemical and genetics experiments will be used to further test those candidate alleles.

People involved: Rainer Melzer, Siriu Pan