Using Brachypodium as a model to study adaptation, growth and evolution in grass (Natural Variation in Grass)

Lead Research Organisation: John Innes Centre
Department Name: Contracts Office


This project aims to explore and exploit new molecular genomic resources for the small wild grass, Brachypodium distachyon. We have identified variation in several grain-related traits that are believed to be locally or generally adaptive. We will characterise existing and new accessions collected from its native range for both morphological and genetic variation with the longer term aim of relating morphological variation with its underlying genetic cause and possible adaptive significance.


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Description The small wild grass Brachypodium originates in the region where wheat and barley (and perhaps oats) were domesticated. We hypothesised that it should, therefore, have experienced similar evolutionary pressures before man began to domesticate the cereals.

We showed that its grain development is very similar to the domesticates but that it was unlikely to have ever been exploited by man (the grain is very low in starch and high in antifeedants) and it is not known to be a crop-mimick. Therefore, man won't have altered its gene-pool, at least not by direct action.

We then made mapping populations to define the gene-variants controlling domestication related characteristics such as grain size, shattering, etc. We have identified some of these and inferred the candidate genes, some of which seem to the same as in wheat and even rice.

this indicates that the variation existing in the gene pool of a wild grass, never cultivated, is similar to and produces very similar traits to that required to produce a domesticated cereal. The selective advantage of these gene variants in the natural environment is unknown but intriguing.
Exploitation Route The mapping populations also contain disease resistance variation and this is being exploited by other research groups.
Sectors Agriculture, Food and Drink,Environment

Description Using Brachypodium as a model to study adaptation, growth and evolution in grass
Amount £155,000 (GBP)
Funding ID F00424R 
Organisation The Leverhulme Trust 
Sector Charity/Non Profit
Country United Kingdom
Start 06/2010 
End 06/2014
Title ABR6 x Bd21 Mapping Population 
Description Recombination Inbred population of over 100 lines, each genotyped at the F4/5 and F8/9 generations. has been shared with several labs in UK and USA 
Type Of Material Biological samples 
Year Produced 2018 
Provided To Others? Yes  
Impact Grant Award 2019 from JGI USA for Community Project, based on this resource 
Description Community Science Project 
Organisation U.S. Department of Energy
Department Genome-Enabled Plant Biology for Determination of Gene Function
Country United States 
Sector Public 
PI Contribution we provided samples from grass to DOE
Collaborator Contribution they provided sequence information on genomes and transcriptomes
Impact manuscript in advanced draft
Start Year 2017