An international consortium of scientists has published a draft of the barley genome in the journal Nature.
The UK team behind the research was led by professor Robbie Waugh of the James Hutton Institute who worked with researchers at The Genome Analysis Centre, Norwich.
Barley is the second most important crop in UK agriculture and malting barley underpins the beer and whisky sector that is worth some £20 billion to the UK economy. The breakthrough is a critical step towards barley varieties able to cope with the demands of climate change. It should also help in the fight against cereal crop diseases that cause millions of pounds of losses annually.
Barley is the world's fourth most important cereal crop both in terms of area of cultivation and in quantity of grain produced. In addition to whisky and beer, barley is also a major component of the animal feed that underpins the meat and dairy industries.
The barley genome is almost twice the size of that of humans and determining the sequence of its DNA has presented a major challenge.
Professor Waugh commented: "Access to the assembled catalogue of gene sequences will streamline efforts to improve barley production through breeding for varieties better able to withstand pests and disease and deal with adverse environmental conditions such as drought and heat stress."
Commenting on the importance of this publication, professor Douglas Kell, BBSRC chief executive said: "This provides a timely and important new tool for unlocking the potential of better varieties of barley that are able to cope with environmental stresses or produce higher yields. It is an exceptionally valuable step for UK agriculture at a time when we have seen huge losses in the field due to wet weather and price-rise predictions for the consumer."