Sequencing of barley genome could have implications for home brewers

When scientists from the Leibniz Institute of Plant Genetics and Crop Plant Research in Germany sequenced the genome of barley, they were thinking primarily about the impact on food. Understanding the genetics behind certain traits could help us breed barley varieties that have built-in resistance against disease, or that contain more fiber. (Contrary to popular understanding, there's actually a lot of overlap between what we might think of as genetic engineering and what we might think of as breeding. Crop researchers can use genome maps to select specific plants to cross pollinate, enabling them to reliably breed a trait into a new variety much faster than was previously possible.)

But, this is barley. And we don't just eat barley. With this plant, sequencing the genome also has implications for the way we brew beer. At Popular Science, Martha Harbison explains what we're learning about barley's genetic code and why it matters in beer making. In particular, she says it's significant that the researchers sequenced the genomes of more than one variety of barley.

Why should aspiring homebrewers care? Because two-row and six-row barley behave slightly differently in the mash, which can have profound effects on brewing efficiency and characteristics of the finished beer (a complex phenomenon I'll get into in a future column). I figured anyone nerdulent enough to want to know about genetic differences of cultivars would be curious as to which kind of barley was used in the single-nucleotide-variation study.

Read the rest of the story at Popular Science

You can read more about the surprisingly complex world of plant breeding in two articles I wrote — one for Popular Science, and one for Discover.

Image: Beers and Glassware, a Creative Commons Attribution No-Derivative-Works (2.0) image from cambridgebrewingcompany's photostream


    1. I think you meant to refer to patents on biologically engineered organisms, as copyright is not an issue (you might want to look up the differences between patents and copyrights). Patenting has already been done with yeast strains, and plenty of plants such as wheat. Sequencing the genome of an organism does not give you the right to have a patent on it, it just gives you information about the subtle differences between variants of that species, or sub-species.

        1. Interesting sentiment, but completely inconsistent with reality today All the new hops varieties are proprietary.  You can’t get plants of them unless you are a contracted producer.

  1. sequenced the genome of barley…
    Crop researchers can use genome maps…
    …learning about barley’s genetic code

    No offense Maggie, and you are far from being the only science writer who does this (the linked article itself makes the map/sequence error), but as a genomicist myself it is frustrating how a genome sequence, a genome map, and a genetic code get conflated in scientific journalism. They are three completely different things.

    1. Maggie comment is correct that maps are particularly useful. You make a good point that they don’t have one for barley; they have raw sequence.

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