Understanding the function of genes within staple crops will accelerate crop improvement by allowing targeted breeding approaches. Despite their importance, a lack of genomic information and resources has hindered the functional characterisation of genes in major crops. The recent release of high-quality reference sequences for these crops underpins a suite of genetic and genomic resources that support basic research and breeding. For wheat, these include gene model annotations, expression atlases and gene networks that provide information about putative function. Sequenced mutant populations, improved transformation protocols and structured natural populations provide rapid methods to study gene function directly. We highlight a case study exemplifying how to integrate these resources. This review provides a helpful guide for plant scientists, especially those expanding into crop research, to capitalise on the discoveries made in Arabidopsis and other plants. This will accelerate the improvement of crops of vital importance for food and nutrition security.