Monogram 2019

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Published on: May 8, 2019

By Sophie Harrington at the John Innes Centre

This year I attended the UK Monogram conference for the third and final time in my PhD. It was a pleasure to have another opportunity to engage with the UK small grains community, both with the academics and the breeding companies that attend.

The conference opened with a brilliant plenary talk by Professor Keith Edwards from the University of Bristol, sharing his thoughts on the origin of variation within Triticum aestivum, hexaploid bread wheat. His talk highlighted the continuation of hybridisation between hexaploid wheat and its tetraploid parents as a result of mixed cultivation. The impacts of this hybridisation can still be seen in the genomes of hexaploid wheat varieties today.

Sophie giving her MECEA award talk. From @malcolmacaulay

This theme of natural genetic variation continued to thread throughout the conference, with the importance of tapping into the diversity present in landraces and wild wheats highlighted during a panel discussion session on the second day. A particularly intriguing example of variation in the grasses was discussed by Dr. Luke Dunning, when he spoke about the evidence for lateral gene transfer in the grasses. This was quite a different method for obtaining variation in grasses compared to what had previously been discussed in the conference and naturally the resounding question in the audience following his talk was how exactly such lateral gene transfer could occur! I’m sure many people are looking forward to hearing what comes out of this story in the future.

Monogram this year also had a substantial focus on methods and platforms that we can use to increase the quality and utility of our data. From the very first session, exploring the bioinformatics tools available for the cereals, it was clear that within the past few years a substantial leap in the quality and quantity of informatics tools available for wheat and barley has occurred. It was thrilling to hear of the large new datasets available for the public, from the wheat transcriptome through to the so-called barley “variome.” Moving beyond bioinformatics, we were also exposed to the potential of using machine learning in our research, as Dr. Laura-Jayne Gardiner from IBM Research highlighted the many biological and agricultural projects in which IBM has successfully applied machine learning technology. This seems to be an area that has substantial potential to tap into the hidden value of the large datasets being developed particularly in cereal genomics.

Of course, without studying the plants themselves it can be difficult (if not impossible) to turn genomic data into biologically relevant information. To that end, the discussion of new phenotyping platforms and consortiums, such as the EU-funded EMPHASIS project, highlighted new ways to increase the throughput and fidelity of phenotyping data.

The importance of establishing a framework for data labelling and curation was also highlighted.

Overall, the 2019 Monogram conference was an excellent opportunity to hear about the cutting-edge research in cereals taking place in the UK and abroad. I was thrilled to have the opportunity to attend with a GARNet travel bursary, and to receive the Monogram Early Career Award for a PhD researcher. I’m already looking forward to next year!



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  1. […] you can read elsewhere on the GARNet blog, the Monogram Network consists of UK based researchers with an active interest in small grain […]

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