Author Archive

Scientists harness genetics to develop more “solar”- and structurally-productive wheat

By Mike Listman/CIMMYT

CIUDAD OBREGON, Mexico (March 22, 2016)- In early outcomes, partners in the International Wheat Yield Partnership (IWYP) are finding evidence that increased photosynthesis, through high biomass, improvements in photosynthetic efficiency, and improved plant architecture, can help make wheat more productive, as the Partnership progresses toward meeting its aim of raising the crop’s genetic yield potential by up to 50% over the next 20 years.

This and other work, and particularly partners’ roles and operating arrangements, were considered at the first official annual IWYP Program Conference. This was held at the Norman E. Borlaug Experiment Station near Ciudad Obregón, Mexico, 8-10 March 2016, following the funding and commencement of the Partnership’s first eight projects, according to Jeff Gwyn, IWYP Program Director.

“The aim of the conference was for participants to learn about everyone else’s work and to integrate efforts to realize synergies and added value,” said Gwyn, noting that some 35 specialists from nearly 20 public and private organizations of the Americas, Europe, Oceania, and South Asia took part.

Wheat rust researcher named AAAS fellow

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By Mike Listman/CIMMYT

WASHINGTON D.C. (February 10, 2016)- In a ceremony on 13 February 2016, scientist Ravi Singh will be named become a Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) for “distinguished contributions to the field of agricultural research and development, particularly in wheat genetics, pathology and breeding.” Singh leads wheat improvement and rust disease resistance research at CIMMYT.

Additionally, two CIMMYT scientists will speak at an AAAS session on 14 February titled “Pathogens Without Borders.” The session will highlight the work of David Hodson and Jessica Rutkoski who, like Singh, are researchers in the Durable Rust Resistance in Wheat (DRRW) project – part of the Borlaug Global Rust Initiative at Cornell University.

To read the complete story on the Thompson-Reuters Foundation News page that describes the event and global efforts to stop wheat rust disease, click here.

Early-sown wheat beats South Asia heat

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Farmer Nathuni Singh doubled his wheat harvest by sowing early. Photo: CSISA

BIHAR, India (January 30, 2016)- In response to earlier summers and rising temperatures in South Asia, specialists in the CIMMYT-led Cereal Systems Initiative for South Asia (CSISA) have been encouraging farmers in India’s eastern Uttar Pradesh and Bihar to sow their wheat crop by mid-November, instead of the traditional date of late December.

According to R.K. Malik, a CSISA senior agronomist, farmers who sow their wheat at the traditional time can lose as much of a quarter of the crop in the spring heat wave, which can exceed 40 degrees Celsius and now arrives as early as March, instead of May, as was previously the case.

Funded by the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), the work is covered in the lead story of the January/February 2016 edition of the USAID periodical FRONTLINES.

Click here to read the FRONTLINES story about farmers like Nathuni Singh and how they have benefited from adopting the new practice, despite the risks involved and the contrary opinions of family and local peers.

Mobilizing seed bank diversity for wheat improvement

During centrifugation, the emulsion for DNA extraction separates into two distinct phases. Chloroform:octanol is more dense than water solutions, so it forms the lower (green) layer. It is also more chemically attractive to molecules such as proteins and polysaccharides. These are thus separated out from the DNA, which is contained in the upper aqueous phase. This clear solution is carefully transferred to fresh centrifuge tubes using a pipette. Photo credit: CIMMYT. See the "DNA extraction" set that this photo is part of for more information and images.By Mike Listman/CIMMYT

EL BATAN, Mexico (January 12, 2016)-A recent study by a global team of researchers from CIMMYT, ICARDA, and the Global Crop Diversity Trust has uncovered a treasure trove of wheat genetic diversity to address drought and rising temperatures—constraints that cut harvests for millions of farmers worldwide and which are growing more severe with each passing year.

The team studied the molecular diversity of 1,423 spring bread wheat accessions that represent major global production environments, using high quality genotyping-by-sequencing (GBS) loci and gene-based markers for various adaptive and quality traits.

They discovered thousands of new DNA marker variations in landraces known to be adapted to drought (1,273 novel GBS SNPs) and heat (4,473 novel GBS SNPs), opening the potential to enrich elite breeding lines with novel alleles for drought and heat tolerance. New allelic variation for vernalization and glutenin genes was also identified in 47 landraces from Afghanistan, India, Iran, Iraq, Pakistan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan.

Mean diversity index (DI) estimates revealed that synthetic hexaploids—created by crossing wheat’s wild grass ancestor Aegilops tauschii with durum wheat—are genetically more diverse than elite lines (DI = 0.267) or landraces (DI = 0.245). Lines derived from such crosses are already playing an increasingly important role in global and national breeding programs.

Identifying and mobilizing useful genetic variation from germplasm banks to breeding programs is key to sustaining crop genetic improvement.  The results have already been used to select 200 diverse germplasm bank accessions for pre-breeding and allele mining of candidate genes associated with drought and heat stress tolerance, thus channeling novel variation into breeding pipelines.

Published in the paper Exploring and Mobilizing the Gene Bank Biodiversity for Wheat Improvement, the research is part of CIMMYT’s ongoing Seeds of Discovery project visioning towards the development of high yielding wheat varieties that address future challenges from climate change.

NAAS fellow M.L. Jat talks about climate change, sustainable agriculture

By Katelyn Roett/CIMMYT

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M.L. Jat observing wheat germination in a zero-till field in Haryana, India. Photo: DK Bishnoi/CIMMYT

EL BATAN, Mexico (December 18,2016)- CIMMYT senior scientist M.L. Jat has received India’s National Academy of Agricultural Sciences (NAAS) fellowship in Natural Resource Management for his “outstanding contributions in developing and scaling” conservation agriculture-based management technologies for predominant cereal-based cropping systems in South Asia.

Jat’s research on conservation agriculture (CA) – sustainable and profitable agriculture that improves livelihoods of farmers via minimal soil disturbance, permanent soil cover, and crop rotations – has guided improvements in soil and environmental health throughout South Asia. His work has led to policy-level impacts in implementing CA practices such as precision land leveling, zero tillage, direct seeding, and crop residue management, and he has played a key role in building the capacity of CA stakeholders throughout the region.

Sustainable innovation, including climate-smart agriculture, were a major theme at the COP21 climate talks .

Clone of magic wheat disease-resistance gene sheds light on new defense mechanism

By Mike Listman/CIMMYT

EL BATAN, Mexico (November 13, 2015)- Scientists have sequenced and described a gene that can help wheat to resist four serious fungal diseases, potentially saving billions of dollars in yearly grain

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A resistant wheat line surrounded by susceptible lines infected by rust disease (photo: CIMMYT/Julio Huerta).

losses and reducing the need for farmers to use costly fungicides, once the gene is bred into high-yielding varieties.

A global research team isolated the wheat gene Lr67, revealing how it hampers fungal pathogen growth through a novel mechanism.

The study, which was published in Nature Genetics on 9 November, involved scientists from the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (CIMMYT), the Chinese Academy of Agricultural Sciences (CAAS), Mexico’s National Institute of Forestry, Agriculture, and Livestock Research (INIFAP), the Norwegian University of Life Sciences and scientists from Australia, including the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO), the University of Newcastle, and the University of Sydney.

According to Ravi Singh, CIMMYT distinguished scientist, wheat breeder, and co-author of the new study, Lr67 belongs to a group of three currently-known “magic” genes that help wheat to resist all three wheat rusts and powdery mildew, a disease that attacks wheat in humid temperate regions. The genes act in different ways but all slow — rather than totally stopping — disease development. When combined with other such partial resistance genes through breeding, they provide a strong, longer-lasting protection for plants, boosting food security.

To read more about Lr67‘s cloning and resistance type, click here.

$20 million in grants for research to boost wheat yield potential

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Photo: Alfredo Saénz/CIMMYT

By Mike Listman/CIMMYT

COLLEGE STATION, Texas (October 30, 2015)- The International Wheat Yield Partnership (IWYP) will recommend around US $20 million in grants awards from its funders for a selection of 8 research projects by leading institutes to increase wheat’s photosynthetic and energy-use efficiency and harness the genetics behind key components of yield.

Resulting from a January 2015 call for competitive research proposals, the projects fit the IWYP goal of raising the genetic yield potential of wheat by up to 50% in the coming 20 years.

To read more about the projects, IWYP, and the Initiative’s funders, click here.

Kenya wheat breeders win the 2015 BGRI Gene Stewardship Award

By Julie Mollins/CIMMYT

NAIROBI, Kenya (October 8, 2015)- Plant pathologist Ruth Wanyera and wheat breeders Godwin Macharia and Peter Njau of the Kenya Agriculture and Livestock Research Organization (KALRO) received the 2015 Gene Stewardship Award at the Borlaug Global Rust Initiative Workshop (BGRI) in Sydney, Australia.

“The KALRO team has done an outstanding job – their work has had significant global impact by accelerating the capacity of developing countries to protect themselves against this swift-moving and devastating disease,” said Sridhar Bhavani, a wheat breeder who leads the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (CIMMYT) stem-rust screening nurseries in East Africa and nominated the team for the award.

WHEAT and CIMMYT Remember Vital Legacy of Gender Specialist Paula Kantor

By Mike Listman/CIMMYT

EL AIP MWG_ Paula_2-cropBATAN, Mexico (May 15,2015) CIMMYT is sad to announce the tragic death of our friend and respected colleague, gender and development specialist Paula Kantor.

Paula died on May 13, in the aftermath of an attack on the hotel where she was staying in Kabul, Afghanistan.

“We extend our deepest condolences to her family, friends and colleagues,” said Thomas Lumpkin, CIMMYT’s director general.

“Paula’s desire to help people and make lasting change in their lives often led her into challenging settings. Her dedication and bravery was much admired by those who knew her and she leaves a lasting legacy upon which future research on gender and food security should build.”

Click here to read more about Paula’s exciting and valuable life and legacy.

Global Partnership Propels Wheat Productivity in China

By Mike Listman/CIMMYT

BEIJING, China (March 30, 2015)- Benefits of three decades of international collaboration in wheat research have added as much as 10.7 million tons of grain — worth US $3.4 billion — to China’s national wheat output, according to a study by the Center for Chinese Agricultural Policy (CCAP) of the Chinese Academy of Science.

Described in a report published on 30 March 2015 by the CGIAR Research Program on Wheat, the research specifically examined China’s partnership with the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (CIMMYT) and the free use of CIMMYT improved wheat lines and other genetic resources during 1982-2011. The conclusions are based on a comprehensive dataset that included planted area, pedigree, and agronomic traits by variety for 17 major wheat-growing provinces in China.