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21st ITMI workshop: wheat geneticists come together in Mexico City

The 21st workshop of the International Triticeae Mapping Initiative (ITMI) was hosted in Mexico City from 05-09 September, coordinated by CIMMYT Wheat Molecular Biologist Susanne Dreisigacker. ITMI was conceived in 1989, originally as a five-year effort to develop RFLP maps for Triticeae crops (mainly wheat and barley). Today the ITMI international community coordinates research efforts in molecular genetics, genomics, and genetic analysis in the Triticeae (chiefly wheat, barley and rye), with the aims of keeping work in Triticeae at the cutting edge of genetic research, avoiding duplication, and ensuring that data and information on the Triticeae is readily available to the community.

Opening the meeting, speakers Jorge Dubcovsky of UC Davis, United States, and Takao Komastuda of the National Institute of Agrobiological Sciences, Japan, shared the stories of their groups working on the characterization of the genes involved in vernalization in wheat and domestication in barley respectively. Dubcovsky presented his findings around the isolation of the Vrn1, 2, and 3 genes and their interaction with several NF-Y proteins, shedding new light on the complex network that regulates flowering and development in response to vernalization and photoperiod in wheat. Komastuda discussed his team’s work on the phylogenetic analysis of barley, demonstrating that the six-rowed phenotype of barley originated repeatedly, at different times and in different regions, through independent mutations in the gene responsible, Vrs1.

Over the following four days, 40 speakers outlined their research advances in the areas of functional genomics, mapping and cloning, applied molecular breeding, the exploitation of genetic resources, and computational biology. The participants also went on a field visit to the Toluca research station to learn more about CIMMYT’s Global Wheat Program. During the last day new initiatives and technologies were introduced, including the CIMMYT SeeD project, Genotyping by Sequencing, and the first results of using 9000 SNP chips in wheat and barley.

Prior to the ITMI meeting the International Wheat Genome Sequencing Consortium (IWGSC), of which CIMMYT is a member, held a one-day workshop to report on progress in sequencing the wheat genome. One of the IWGSC’s major milestones for 2011 has already been achieved: sequence assemblies—fragments of a long DNA sequence that are developed in order to reconstruct the original sequence of all 21 chromosomes—have been developed and will be accessible to the wheat community in September or October.

This year represented the ITMI meeting’s return to CIMMYT after a gap of approximately 20 years. Special thanks to the 140 participants from more than 30 countries who contributed to put together an effective and successful workshop.