The cereal genomes: hidden treasures for evolutionary genomics and agronomy

We study the genomes of the grass species wheat, barley and rice to analyze genome evolution in cereals. Plant genomes generally evolve much more rapidly than animal genomes and we want to understand  the underlying molecular mechanisms. These studies in evolutionary genomics have already given surprising results: for the genomic regions analyzed to date, we found complete restructuring of the intergenic regions within 1 to 3 million years, a much faster and dramatic evolution than previously assumed.

The wheat genome is very large (5x the size of the human genome) and complex. The knowledge on cereal genome structure is used in our group for the molecular isolation of agronomically important genes from wheat and barley. We have recently isolated the first two resistance genes against the fungal diseases leaf rust and powdery mildew of wheat. We are now studying their activity and the evolution of resistance at the molecular level. 

The different projects conducted in the research group strongly depend on the use of genomic technologies as well as advanced bioinformatics.

Recent Publications

  • Population genomic analysis of Aegilops tauschii identifies targets for bread wheat improvement
    Gaurav, Kumar; Arora, Sanu; Silva, Paula; Sanchez-Martin, Javier; Horsnell, Richard; et al.
    Nature Biotechnology 10.1038/s41587-021-01058-4 NOV 2021
  • NLR immune receptors and diverse types of non-NLR proteins control race-specific resistance in Triticeae
    Sanchez-Martin, Javier; Keller, Beat
    Current Opinion In Plant Biology 10.1016/j.pbi.2021.102053  AUG 2021
  • Expression of the wheat disease resistance gene Lr34 in transgenic barley leads to accumulation of abscisic acid at the leaf tip
    Braeunlich, Stephanie; Koller, Teresa; Glauser, Gaetan; Krattinger, Simon G.; Keller, Beat
    Plant Physiology And Biochemistry  10.1016/j.plaphy.2021.07.001  SEP 2021
  • Identification of specificity-defining amino acids of the wheat immune receptor Pm2 and powdery mildew effector AvrPm2
    Manser, Beatrice; Koller, Teresa; Praz, Coraline Rosalie; Roulin, Anne C.; Zbinden, Helen; Arora, Sanu; Steuernagel, Burkhard; Wulff, Brande B. H.; Keller, Beat; Sanchez-Martin, Javier
    Plant Journal  10.1111/tpj.15214  Early Access: APR 2021
  • Characterization of the Resistance to Powdery Mildew and Leaf Rust Carried by the Bread Wheat Cultivar Victo
    Desiderio, Francesca; Bourras, Salim; Mazzucotelli, Elisabetta; Rubiales, Diego; Keller, Beat; et al.
    International Journal Of Molecular Sciences  10.3390/ijms22063109  Published: MAR 2021
  • Alleles of a wall-associated kinase gene account for three of the major northern corn leaf blight resistance loci in maize
    Yang P; Scheuermann D; Kessel B; Koller T; Greenwood JR;  Hurni S; Herren G; Zhou SH; Marande, W; Wicker T; Krattinger SG; Ouzunova M; Keller, B
    Plant Journal  10.1111/tpj.15183  Published: APR 2021
  • Chromosome-scale genome assembly provides insights into rye biology, evolution and agronomic potential
    Rabanus-Wallace, M. Timothy; Hackauf, Bernd; Mascher, Martin; Lux, Thomas; Wicker, Thomas; et al.
    Nature Genetics 10.1038/s41588-021-00807-0   Early Access: MAR 2021
  • Wheat Pm4 resistance to powdery mildew is controlled by alternative splice variants encoding chimeric proteins
    Sanchez-Martin, Javier; Widrig, Victoria; Herren, Gerhard; Wicker, Thomas; Zbinden, Helen; Gronnier, Julien; Sporri, Laurin; Praz, Coraline R; Heuberger, Matthias; Kolodziej, Markus C.; Isaksson, Jonatan; Steuernagel, Burkhard; Karafiatova, Miroslava; Dolezel, Jaroslav; Zipfel, Cyril; Keller, Beat
    Nature Plants,  10.1038/s41477-021-00869-2 MAR 2021
  • Population genomics and haplotype analysis in spelt and bread wheat identifies a gene regulating glume color
    Abrouk, Michael; Athiyannan, Naveenkumar; Mueller, Thomas; Pailles, Yveline; Stritt, Christoph; Roulin, Anne; Chu, Chenggen; Liu, Shuyu; Morita, Takumi; Handa, Hirokazu; Poland, Jesse; Keller, Beat; Krattinger, Simon G.
    Communications Biology,  10.1038/s42003-021-01908-6  MAR 19 2021
  • A membrane-bound ankyrin repeat protein confers race-specific leaf rust disease resistance in wheat
    Kolodziej, Markus C.; Singla, Jyoti; Sanchez-Martin, Javier; Zbinden, Helen; Simkova, Hana; Karafiatova, Miroslava; Dolezel, Jaroslav; Gronnier, Julien; Poretti, Manuel; Glauser, Gaetan; Zhu, Wangsheng; Koster, Philipp; Zipfel, Cyril; Wicker, Thomas; Krattinger, Simon; Keller, Beat
    Nature Communications,  DOI: 10.1038/s41467-020-20777-x FEB 11 2021
  • A versatile microfluidic platform measures hyphal interactions between Fusarium graminearum and Clonostachys rosea in real-time
    Gimeno, Alejandro; Stanley, Claire E.; Ngamenie, Zacharie; Hsung, Ming-Hui; Walder, Florian; et al.
    Communications Biology  10.1038/s42003-021-01767-1  Published: FEB 26 2021
  • A highly differentiated region of wheat chromosome 7AL encodes a Pm1a immune receptor that recognizes its corresponding AvrPm1a effector from Blumeria graminis
    Hewitt, Tim; Muller, Marion C.; Molnar, Istvan; Mascher, Martin; Holusova, Katerina; et al.
    New Phytologist    DOI: 10.1111/nph.17075  DEC 2020
  • Multiple wheat genomes reveal global variation in modern breeding
    Walkowiak, Sean; Gao, Liangliang; Monat, Cecile; Haberer, Georg; Kassa, Mulualem T.; et al.
    Nature   DOI: 10.1038/s41586-020-2961-x  DEC 10 2020
  • Single residues in the LRR domain of the wheat PM3A immune receptor can control the strength and the spectrum of the immune response
    Lindner, Stefan; Keller, Bettina; Singh, Simrat P.; Hasenkamp, Zsuzsanna; Jung, Esther; et al.
    Plant Journal  DOI: 10.1111/tpj.14917 Published: SEP 2020
  • The NLR-Annotator Tool Enables Annotation of the Intracellular Immune Receptor Repertoire
    Steuernagel, Burkhard; Witek, Kamil; Krattinger, Simon G.; Ramirez-Gonzalez, Ricardo H.; Schoonbeek, Henk-jan; et al.
    Plant Physiology  DOI: 10.1104/pp.19.01273  Published: JUN 2020
  • From laboratory to the field: biological control of Fusarium graminearum on infected maize crop residues
    Gimeno, A.; Kagi, A.; Drakopoulos, D.; Banziger, I.; Lehmann, E.; Forrer, H. -R.; Keller, B; Vogelgsang, S
    Journal Of Applied Microbiology  10.1111/jam.14634  Early Access: APR 2020
  • Cross-Kingdom RNAi of Pathogen Effectors Leads to Quantitative Adult Plant Resistance in Wheat
    Schaefer, LK ; Parlange, F; Buchmann, G; Jung, E ; Wehrli, A ; Herren, G; Muller, MC; Stehlin, J ; Schmid, R; Wicker, T; Keller, B; Bourras, S
    Frontiers In Plant Science  DOI: 10.3389/fpls.2020.00253 Published: MAR 10 2020
Beat Keller

Prof. Dr. Beat Keller
University of Zurich
Department of Plant and Microbial Biology
8008 Zurich

Tel: +41 (0)44 634 82 30

Research topics

  • Fungal disease resistance in cereals
  • Structure and evolution of plant genomes
  • Molecular basis of agronomically important traits
  • Root hair development



  • Evolutionary genomics
  • Molecular Agronomy and Plant Breeding
  • Plant Pathology