Background: The economic importance of cereals such as barley, and the demand for improved yield and quality require a better understanding of the genetic components that modulate biologically and commercially relevant traits. While Arabidopsis thaliana is the premiere model plant system, the spectrum of its traits cannot address all of the fundamental questions of crop plant development. Unlike Arabidopsis, barley is both a crop and a model system for scientific research, and it is increasingly being used for genetic and molecular investigations into the conserved biological processes of cereals. A common challenge in genetic studies in plants with large genomes arises from the very time-consuming work of associating mutant phenotypes with gene sequence information, especially if insertion mutagenesis is not routine, as in barley. Reverse genetics based on chemical mutagenesis represents the best solution to this obstacle.
Findings: In barley, we generated a new TILLING (Targeting Local Lesions IN Genomes) resource comprising 10,279 M(2 )mutants in the two-rowed malting cultivar 'Barke,' which has been used in the generation of other genomic resources in barley (~150,000 ESTs, DH mapping population). The value of this new resource was tested using selected candidate genes. An average frequency of approximately one mutation per 0.5 Mb was determined by screening ten fragments of six different genes. The ethyl methanesulphonate (EMS)mutagenesis efficiency was studied by recording and relating the mutagenesis-dependent effects found in the three mutant generations (M(1)-M(3)). A detailed analysis was performed for the homeodomain-leucine-zipper (HD-ZIP) gene HvHox1. Thirty-one mutations were identified by screening a 1,270-bp fragment in 7,348 M(2 )lines. Three of the newly identified mutants exhibited either a six-rowed or an intermedium-spike phenotype, and one mutant displayed a significantly altered spikelet morphology compared to that of the 'Barke' wild type. Our results indicate a bias in the frequency of independent functional mutations at specific base pair (bp) positions within the gene HvHox1.
Conclusions: A new TILLING population was developed as a resource for high-throughput gene discovery in an alternative barley germplasm. Pilot screening demonstrated a similar or even slightly higher mutation frequency when compared to previously published barley TILLING populations that should allow for the identification of diverse allelic variation. Partial phenotypic evaluation of the M(2 )and M(3 )generations has revealed the presence of a wide spectrum of morphological diversity that highlights the great potential of this resource for use in forward genetic screens. Altogether, our study shows the efficiency of screening and the applicability of the new TILLING population for genetic studies in the barley crop model system.