Plant specimens collected on Captain Cook’s first expedition in 1768 are to be genetically analysed for traits that could be edited into today’s crops to make them more resilient to climate change and disease.
The samples will be investigated as part of a project to genetically sequence the Natural History Museum’s 8,000-specimin collection of grass crops and other plants going back 300 years – an analysis unprecedented in terms of volume and historical and geographical sweep.
It is hoped the exercise will identify helpful genetic properties that could lead to gene-edited wheat, resistant to deadly disease, being farmed in the UK within a decade.
The researchers are also looking for genes that will make wheat, barley and rye resistant to drought, heat and storms. The aim is to produce crops able to thrive without the need for fertiliser and pesticides
“While modern varieties give amazing yields, many of these old varieties have genes that we need around the world again to grow in marginal lands, to deal with hotter, drier climates, and to grow well with less energy intensive fertiliser.

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