The institute of evolution wild cereal gene bank at the university of Haifa

Tamar Krugman, Eviatar Nevo, Alex Beharav, Hanan Sela, Tzion Fahima

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review


The Institute of Evolution Wild Cereal Gene Bank (ICGB) at the University of Haifa, Israel, harbors extensive collections of wild emmer wheat (WEW), Triticum dicoccoides, and wild barley (WB), Hordeum spontaneum, the primary progenitors of wheat and barley, respectively. The ICGB also includes minor collections of 10 species of Aegilops, wild oat (Avena barbata), and Brachypodium stacei and B. hybridum (previously distachyon). Here, we describe the WEW and WB collections, explain sampling strategies, and introduce related studies. Natural populations were sampled across Israel along aridity gradients, occurring from north to south and from west to east, and in local microsites with variable (or contrasting) ecological factors. The collection sites varied greatly in terms of climatic (rainfall, temperature and humidity), edaphic (soil types), and topography (altitude, slope) variables. Thus, the ICGB collections represent wild cereals adapted to a wide range of habitats and eco-geographical conditions. We have collected and preserved these unique gene pools since mid-70th, and further used them for theoretical and applied studies in population genetics, evolution, domestication, adaptation to local and regional habitats, and coping mechanisms for a plethora of biotic and abiotic stresses. Our studies revealed that WEW and WB populations from Israel harbor high adaptive genetic diversity that can serve as a reservoir of beneficial alleles to improve important agronomic traits such as disease resistance, drought tolerance and improved grain protein content. These mostly untapped genetic resources could contribute to increasing world food production for the constantly rising human population.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)129-146
Number of pages18
JournalIsrael Journal of Plant Sciences
Issue number3-4
StatePublished - 2018

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
The ICBG collections were assembled on the premise that ecological genetics is important for highlighting genome evolution of WB and WEW, the progenitors of cultivated barley and most tetraploid and hexaploid bread wheat. These collections have been the basis of hundreds of ecological genetics and ecological genomics studies encompassing both regional and local scales. The studies have identified rich genetic diversity within and between populations, mostly associated with aridity and soil. Furthermore, our studies revealed that Israel is the richest area in the Fertile Crescent in terms of the adaptive genetic diversity of WEW and WB populations, which can serve for the improvement of important agronomic traits. The collection, preservation, and utilization of these valuable cereals from Israel are of future cardinal importance in light of the increasing world population. However, most of the genetic resources in the ICBG’s collections remain to be tapped. Planning forward, our aim is to dissect the genetic basis of adaptive disease resistance, drought resistance, high protein and mineral grain content, yield, and other agronomic traits. Recent advances in barley genomics (e.g. Mascher et al. 2017 ; Keller and Krattinger 2017 ), and wheat genomics, including the full genomic sequence and gene annotation of tetraploid WEW ( Avni et al. 2017 ), and hexaploid, Chinese Spring (CS) are currently available ( Appels et al. 2018 ). These, together with various public bioinformatic, transcriptomic, and genomic tools will accelerate the process from trait discovery, in the gene pool of the wild progenitors, to gene cloning, to crop improvement. Studies described in this review were supported by grants from the EU- European Commission through the WHEALBI project (grant no. 613556); United States – Israel Binational Agricultural Research and Development Fund (BARD) (grants no. US-4323-10c and IS-4628-13); The Israel Science Foundation (ISF) (grant no. 205/08); ISF for equipment (grant no. 2289/16); The Israel Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development, Chief Scientist Foundation (grants no. 312–10 and 837-0162-14). The Ancell-Teicher Research Foundation of Genetics and Molecular Evolution. The authors would like to thank our colleagues from the IOE, Abraham Korol, Avigdor Beiles, Suad Khalifa, and Tamar Kis-Papo, for their excellent scientific contribution along the years. Special thanks to Tomas Pavlicek for collecting many of the samples of WEW and WB across Israel. We would also like to thank all our collaborators and our MSc and PhD students who helped us to uncover the genetic diversity of WEW and WB and its potential to crop improvement. * CONTACT Tamar Krugman

Publisher Copyright:
© Koninklijke Brill NV, Leiden, 2018.


  • Crop improvement
  • Domestication
  • Gene bank
  • Genetic diversity
  • Wild barley
  • Wild crop relatives
  • Wild emmer wheat

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Agronomy and Crop Science
  • Plant Science


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