Activating the gene power in seeds to boost wheat’s climate resilience

As part of varied approaches at the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (CIMMYT) to unleash the power of wheat biodiversity, researchers from India and Mexico have been mobilizing native diversity from ancestral versions of wheat and related grasses to heighten the crop’s resilience to dryness and heat—conditions that have held back wheat yields for several decades and will worsen as earth’s climate changes—and their results are beginning to reach breeders worldwide.

In the wheat component of the CIMMYT-led Seeds of Discovery (SeeD) project, by 2016 the scientists had cross-pollinated elite wheat lines with more than 1,000 heirloom wheat varieties and “synthetic wheats” — the result of interbreeding wheat with hardy wild grasses.

The team has since refined the experimental wheat lines from this work and shared them with scientists in Australia, India, Iran, Mexico, Pakistan, and the United Kingdom.

South Asia: A laboratory for heat effects on wheat. The results are particularly relevant for India, whose farmers produce some 90 million tons of wheat each year and where overall warming and the increasingly variable onset of pre-monsoon heat threatens wheat crops.

Recognizing the value of the enhanced wheat genetic resources to address this and other challenges, the government of Punjab state, one of India’s leading wheat producers, is supporting SeeD’s wheat research at the Borlaug Institute for South Asia (BISA) Ludhiana, Punjab, experiment station, according to Kevin Pixley, director of CIMMYT’s genetic resources program.

“To break through wheat’s current yield-gain ceiling of less than 1 percent per year, wheat plants must be able produce much more while withstanding hot, dry weather and crop diseases,” said Pixley, speaking at a SeeD workshop at Punjab Agricultural University (PAU), Ludhiana, in March. “To develop such wheats, breeders need access to useful characteristics from unbred materials and wild relatives through pre-breeding, a process to develop bridging lines that carry the useful traits and can be used easily by breeders to cross those qualities into the best modern wheat varieties.”

Organized by BISA, the workshop provided a forum for scientists from the public national breeding programs of South Asia to share their data and feedback, after testing wheat pre-breeding lines developed at CIMMYT under heat and drought stress.

Workshop participants on a field visit at BISA farm, Ladhowal, Ludhiana (photo: Naveen Gupta/ CIMMYT-BISA).

Breeders are testing and using experimental wheat lines. “Systematic, large-scale deployment of useful wheat diversity from gene banks is extremely important to address increasing demand and climate change threats and generally broaden the genetic diversity of the wheat varieties that farmers grow,” said Sukhwinder Singh, who leads SeeD’s wheat research component. “We really appreciate the help of national partners to evaluate early-generation pre-breeding lines in their respective regions.”

The event drew 15 breeders and 20 PAU students and administrators, including the opening speakers Sarvejit Singh, PAU Director of Research, and D.S. Brar, PAU adjunct professor.

Among other things, workshop participants assessed the value of the wheat lines for their respective institutes’ research programs.

  • Achla Sharma and the team from PAU, Ludhiana, are tapping into pre-Green Revolution germplasm to broaden the genetic base of their breeding program. They showed two years of data that identified SeeD pre-breeding lines promising for tolerance to drought, salinity and soil micronutrient deficiency, as well as stripe and leaf rust resistance.
  • Sandeep Kumar, of India’s National Bureau of Plant Genetic Resources (NBPGR), has screened thousands of NBPGR accessions for heat tolerance and has been collaborating with CIMMYT wheat physiologist Matthew Reynolds for the past three years. He would like to compare NBPGR phenotypes and genotypes with materials from SeeD and the CIMMYT genebank.
  • Sanjay Kumar Singh, of the Indian Institute of Wheat and Barley Research (IIWBR) in Karnal, reported that about one-third of the 164 SeeD pre-breeding lines they have evaluated are promising for rust resistance, and several look useful for heat and drought tolerance.
  • Jai Jaiswal, of G.B. Pant University of Agriculture and Technology, Pantnagar, indicated that the maturity of SeeD pre-breeding lines is useful because it is similar or a few days earlier than the maturity of their checks. They are screening for heat tolerance and rust resistance, and appreciate the genotypic information available through CIMMYT/SeeD.
  • Ashwani Kumar and Daisy Basandrai from CSK Himachal Pradesh Agricultural University made a presentation on the potential of SeeD pre-breeding lines and landrace core sets evaluated at Malan station-Palampur. Based on artificially inoculated field and screenhouse trials, they have identified about 20 lines and 20 Iranian landraces with exciting levels of powdery mildew resistance.
  • Harminder Sidhu (BISA, CIMMYT) discussed how conservation agriculture contributes to climate change adaptation by saving water, nutrients and money, and maintaining cooler canopy temperature; it also reduces weeds and enables relay cropping. A discussion ensued on seeking germplasm for use in conservation agriculture with the objective of reducing weed competition.
  • Uttam Kumar (CIMMYT, BISA) spoke about genomic selection. Project partners expressed their interest in applying genomic selection to SeeD pre-breeding materials, for example, to predict performance in some environments using data from other environments.

Participants expressed great interest and their intent to continue field testing of wheat pre-breeding germplasm that appears promising for heat and drought tolerance and other traits, as well as to take part in analyses combining multi-location field data with genotypic data from SeeD.

Conserving, studying and using wheat genetic diversity. Located at CIMMYT headquarters in Central Mexico, the center’s wheat germplasm bank contains nearly 150,000 collections of seed of wheat and related species from more than 100 countries. These collections preserve the diversity of unique native varieties and wild relatives of wheat and are held under long-term storage for the benefit of humanity in accordance with the 2007 International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture, according to Pixley.

“CIMMYT researchers also apply targeted physiology and DNA technologies to broaden and leverage the native diversity of wheat for the challenges farmers face,” said Pixley. “Finally, the center leads an unparalleled international wheat improvement network whose contributions are found in the pedigrees of varieties sown on half of the world’s wheat area. As part of breeding nurseries and responses to requests for germplasm bank samples, in 2016 alone CIMMYT distributed more than 14 tons of experimental wheat seed in 306 shipments to 284 partners in 83 countries.”

The work of SeeD is supported by generous funding from Mexico’s Agriculture, Livestock, Rural Development, Fisheries, and Food Secretariat (SAGARPA), the government of Punjab, and the UK’s Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC).

Agricultural researchers forge new ties to develop nutritious crops and environmental farming

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Photo: A. Cortes/CIMMYT

EL BATAN, Mexico (CIMMYT)—Scientists from two of the world’s leading agricultural research institutes will embark on joint research to boost global food security, mitigate environmental damage from farming, and help to reduce food grain imports by developing countries.

At a recent meeting, 30 scientists from the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (CIMMYT) and Rothamsted Research, a UK-based independent science institute, agreed to pool expertise in research to develop higher-yielding, more disease resistant and nutritious wheat varieties for use in more productive, climate-resilient farming systems.

“There is no doubt that our partnership can help make agriculture in the UK greener and more competitive, while improving food security and reducing import dependency for basic grains in emerging and developing nations,” said Achim Dobermann, director of Rothamsted Research, which was founded in 1843 and is the world’s longest running agricultural research station.

Individual Rothamsted and CIMMYT scientists have often worked together over the years, but are now forging a stronger, broader collaboration, according to Martin Kropff, CIMMYT director general. “We’ll combine the expertise of Rothamsted in such areas as advanced genetics and complex cropping systems with the applied reach of CIMMYT and its partners in developing countries,” said Kropff.

Nearly half of the world’s wheat lands are sown to varieties that carry contributions from CIMMYT’s breeding research and yearly economic benefits from the additional grain produced are as high as $3.1 billion.

Experts predict that by 2050 staple grain farmers will need to grow at least 60 percent more than they do now, to feed a world population exceeding 9 billion while addressing environmental degradation and climate shocks.

Rothamsted and CIMMYT will now develop focused proposals for work that can be funded by the UK and other donors, according to Hans Braun, director of CIMMYT’s global wheat program. “We’ll seek large initiatives that bring significant impact,” said Braun.

Cornell receives UK support to aid scientists fighting threats to global wheat supply

Ronnie Coffman (r), Cornell plant breeder and director of the new Delivering Genetic Gain in Wheat (DGGW) project, surveys rust resistant wheat in fields of the Ethiopian Institute for Agricultural Research with Bedada Girma (l), wheat breeder and Ethiopian coordinator for new project. Ethiopia is a major partner in the new grant. CREDIT: McCandless/Cornell

ITHACA, NY: Cornell University will receive $10.5 million in UK aid investment from the British people to help an international consortium of plant breeders, pathologists and surveillance experts overcome diseases hindering global food security efforts.

The funds for the four-year Delivering Genetic Gain in Wheat, or DGGW, project will build on a $24 million grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, announced in March 2016, and bring the total to $34.5 million.

“Wheat provides 20 percent of the calories and protein consumed by people globally, but borders in Africa, South Asia and the Middle East are porous when it comes to disease pathogens and environmental stressors like heat and drought that threaten the world’s wheat supply,” said Ronnie Coffman, international plant breeder and director of International Programs at Cornell University, who leads the global consortium.

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Harnessing medical technology and global partnerships to drive gains in food crop productivity

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Ulrich Schurr (left), of Germany’s Forschungszentrum Jülich research center and chair of the International Plant Phenotyping Network (IPPN), and Matthew Reynolds, wheat physiologist of the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (CIMMYT), are promoting global partnerships in phenotyping to improve critical food crops, through events like the recent International Crop Phenotyping Symposium. Photo: M.Listman/CIMMYT

EL BATÁN, Mexico (CIMMYT) — Global research networks must overcome nationalist and protectionist tendencies to provide technology advances the world urgently needs, said a leading German scientist at a recent gathering in Mexico of 200 agricultural experts from more than 20 countries.

“Agriculture’s critical challenges of providing food security and better nutrition in the face of climate change can only be met through global communities that share knowledge and outputs; looking inward will not lead to results,” said Ulrich Schurr, director of the Institute of Bio- and Geosciences of the Forschungszentrum Jülich research center, speaking at the 4th International Plant Phenotyping Symposium

One such community is the International Plant Phenotyping Network(IPPN), chaired by Schurr and co-host of the symposium in December, with the Mexico-based International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center, known by its Spanish acronym, CIMMYT.

Adapting medical sensors helps crop breeders see plants as never before

“Phenotyping” is the application of new technology — including satellite images, airborne cameras, and multi-spectral sensors mounted on robotic carts — to the age-old art of measuring the traits and performance of breeding lines of maize, wheat and other crops, Schurr said.

“Farmers domesticated major food crops over millennia by selecting and using seed of individual plants that possessed desirable traits, like larger and better quality grain,” he explained. “Science has helped modern crop breeders to ‘fast forward’ the process, but breeders still spend endless hours in the field visually inspecting experimental plants. Phenotyping technologies can expand their powers of observation and the number of lines they process each year.”

Adapting scanning devices and protocols pioneered for human medicine or engineering, phenotyping was initially confined to labs and other controlled settings, according to Schurr.

“The push for the field started about five years ago, with the availability of new high-throughput, non-invasive devices and the demand for field data to elucidate the genetics of complex traits like yield or drought and heat tolerance,” he added.

Less than 10 years ago, Schurr could count on the fingers of one hand the number of institutions working on phenotyping. “Now, IPPN has 25 formal members and works globally with 50 institutions and initiatives.”

Cameras and other sensors mounted on flying devices like this blimp [remote-control quadcopter] provide crop researchers with important visual and numerical information about crop growth, plant architecture and photosynthetic traits, among other characteristics. Photo: Emma Quilligan/CIMMYT

Many ways to see plants and how they grow

So-called “deep” phenotyping uses technologies such as magnetic resonance imaging, positron emission and computer tomography to identify, measure and understand “invisible” plant parts, systems and processes, including roots and water capture and apportionment.

In controlled environments such as labs and greenhouses, researchers use automated systems and environmental simulation to select sources of valuable traits and to gain insight on underlying plant physiology that is typically masked by the variation found in fields, according to Schurr.

“Several specialists in our symposium described automated lab setups to view and analyze roots and greenhouse systems to assess crop shoot geometry, biomass accumulation and photosynthesis,” he explained. “These are then linked to crop simulation models and DNA markers for genes of important traits.”

Schurr said that support for breeding and precision agriculture includes the use of cameras or other sensors that take readings from above plant stands and crop rows in the field.

“These may take the form of handheld devices or be mounted on autonomous, robotic carts,” he said, adding that the plants can be observed using normal light and infrared or other types of radiation reflected from the plant and soil.

“The sensors can also be mounted on flying devices including drones, blimps, helicopters or airplanes. This allows rapid coverage of a larger area and many more plants than are possible through visual observation alone by breeders walking through a field.”

In the near future, mini-satellites equipped with high-resolution visible light sensors to capture and share aerial images of breeding plots will be deployed to gather data in the field, according to symposium participants.

Bringing high-flying technologies to earth

As is typical with new technologies and approaches to research, phenotyping for crop breeding and research holds great promise but must overcome several challenges, including converting images to numeric information, managing massive and diverse data, interfacing effectively with genomic analysis and bringing skeptical breeders on board.

“The demands of crop breeding are diverse — identifying novel traits, studies of genetic resources and getting useful diversity into usable lines, choosing the best parents for crosses and selecting outstanding varieties in the field, to name a few,” Schurr explained. “From the breeders’ side, there’s an opportunity to help develop novel methods and statistics needed to harness the potential of phenotyping technology.”

A crucial linkage being pursued is that with genomic analyses. “Studies often identify genome regions tied to important traits like photosynthesis as ‘absolute,’ without taking into account that different genes might come into play depending on, say, the time of day of measurement,” Schurr said. “Phenotyping can shed light on such genetic phenomena, describing the same thing from varied angles.”

Speaking at the symposium, Greg Rebetzke, a research geneticist since 1995 at Australia’s Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO), said that the effective delivery in commercial breeding of “phenomics” — a term used by some to describe the high-throughput application of phenotyping in the field — is more a question of what and when, not how.

“It’s of particular interest in breeding for genetically complex traits like drought tolerance,” Rebetzke said. “Phenomics can allow breeders to screen many more plants in early generations of selection, helping to bring in more potentially useful genetic diversity. This genetic enrichment with key alleles early on can significantly increase the likelihood of identifying superior lines in the later, more expensive stages of selecting, which is typically done across many different environments.”

Moreover, where conventional breeding generally uses “snaphot” observations of plants at different growth stages, phenotyping technology can provide detailed time-series data for selected physiological traits and how they are responding to their surroundings — say, well-watered versus dry conditions — and for a much greater diversity and area of plots and fields.

Phenotyping is already being translated from academic research to commercial sector development and use, according to Christoph Bauer, leader of phenotyping technologies at KWS, a German company that breeds for and markets seed of assorted food crops.

“It takes six-to-eight years of pre-breeding and breeding to get our products to market,” Bauer said in his symposium presentation. “In that process, phenotyping can be critical to sort the ‘stars’ from the ‘superstars’.”

Commercial technology providers for phenotyping are also emerging, according to Schurr, helping to ensure robustness, the use of best practices and alignment with the needs of academic and agricultural industry customers.

“The partnership triad of academia, commercial providers and private seed companies offers a powerful avenue for things like joint analysis of genotypic variation in the pre-competitive domain or testing of cutting-edge technology,” he added.

On the final morning of the symposium, participants broke off into groups to discuss special topics, including the cost effectiveness of high-throughput phenotyping and its use to analyze crop genetic resources, measuring roots, diagnostics of reproductive growth, sensor technology needs, integrating phenotypic data into crop models, and public-private collaboration.

Schurr said organizations like CIMMYT play a crucial role.

“CIMMYT does relevant breeding for millions of maize and wheat farmers — many of them smallholders — who live in areas often of little interest for large-scale companies, providing support to the national research programs and local or regional seed producers that serve such farmers,” Schurr said. “The center also operates phenotyping platforms worldwide for traits like heat tolerance and disease resistance and freely spreads knowledge and technology.”

Advice for India’s rice-wheat farmers: Put aside the plow and save straw to fight pollution

by Mike Listman / 29 November 2016

Recent media reports show that the 19 million inhabitants of New Delhi are under siege from a noxious haze generated by traffic, industburningcloseries, cooking fires and the burning of over 30 million tons of rice straw on farms in the neighboring states of Haryana and Punjab.

However, farmers who rotate wheat and rice crops in their fields and deploy a sustainable agricultural technique known as “zero tillage” can make a significant contribution to reducing smog in India’s capital, helping urban dwellers breathe more easily.

Since the 1990s, scientists at the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (CIMMYT) have been working with national partners and advanced research institutes in India to test and promote reduced tillage which allows rice-wheat farmers of South Asia to save money, better steward their soil and water resources, cut greenhouse gas emissions and stop the burning of crop residues.

The key innovation involves sowing wheat seed directly into untilled soil and rice residues in a single tractor pass, a method known as zero tillage. Originally deemed foolish by many farmers and researchers, the practice or its adaptations slowly caught on and by 2008 were being used to sow wheat by farmers on some 1.8 million hectares in India.

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The Turbo Happy Seeder allows farmers to sow a rotation crop directly into the residues of a previous crop—in this case, wheat seed into rice straw—without plowing, a practice that raises yields, saves costs and promotes healthier soil and cleaner air.

Click here to read more about how scientists and policymakers are promoting the technique as a key alternative for residue burning and to help clear Delhi’s deadly seasonal smog.

 

 

2015 ICARDA annual report: Towards Dynamic Drylands

ICARDA’s work in the severely food-and water-stressed Middle Eastern and North African countries puts it in a strong position to contribute to stability in the region, addressing the root causes of the migration—food insecurity, unemployment, drought and environmental degradation.

Center outcoicarda-2015-cover-mrmes in 2015 add to the body of evidence that demonstrates a clear potential and path towards productive and climate-resilient livelihoods for smallholders and livestock producers – a road towards ‘Dynamic Drylands’ – the theme of ICARDA’s 2015 Annual Report, which we proudly present.

To read the report on line or download a pdf copy, click here.

Advances toward breaking the wheat yield barrier: IWYP 2015-16 annual report

In addition to incisive background on IWYP, including its model, mission and goals, this report covers first-year activities and advances from thcover-iwyp-ar-2015-16e partnership’s Science Program and how research outputs are uses to generate added value.

Dr. Richard Flavell FRS, CBE, who chairs the Science Impact and Executive Board of IWYP, states: “Being a part of such a worthy endeavor as IWYP that seeks to impact global food and nutritional security by seeking solutions with cutting-edge science is exhilarating. This is a unique opportunity to employ and validate a new way of working together internationally to achieve common goals that address critical needs. We are confident that we have laid the necessary groundwork and will remain focused and committed to realize our collective success.”

To view or download a copy of the IWYP Annual Report follow the link: http://iwyp.org/annual-report/

Wheat global impacts 1994-2014: Published report available

Just published by CIMMYT and WHEAT, the report “Impacts of International Wheat Improvement Research 1994-2014,” shows that varieties on nearly half the world’s wheat lands overall — as well as 70 to 80 percent of all wheat varieties released in our primary target regions (South Asia, Central and West Asia and North Africa)Cover_Page_01 — are CGIAR related. Other key findings include the following:

  • Fully 63 percent of the varieties featured CGIAR genetic contributions. This means they are either direct releases of breeding lines from CIMMYT and ICARDA or have a CGIAR line as a parent or more distant ancestor.
  • Yearly economic benefits of CGIAR wheat breeding research ranged from $2.2 to $3.1 billion (in 2010 dollars), and resulted from annual funding of just $30 million, representing a benefit-cost ratio of between 73:1 and 103:1, even by conservative estimates.
  • In South Asia, for example, which is home to more than 300 million undernourished people and whose inhabitants consume over 100 million tons of wheat a year, 92 percent of the varieties carried CGIAR ancestry.

Released to coincide with CIMMYT’s 50th anniversary this year, the new study analyzes the pedigrees of 4,604 wheat varieties released worldwide during 1994-2014, based on survey responses from public and private breeding programs in 66 countries.

Started in the 1950s by Norman Borlaug, the global wheat improvement pipeline coordinated by CIMMYT and ICARDA has constituted national breeding programs’ main source of new genetic variation for wheat yield increases, adaptation to climate change, and resistance to crop pests and diseases. In 2014 alone, CIMMYT distributed free of charge more than 12 tons of seed of experimental lines for testing and other research by 346 partners in public and private breeding programs of 79 countries.

CIMMYT and ICARDA depend on generous donor assistance and national partnerships to achieve meaningful farm-level impacts. On behalf of the farmers and consumers who have benefited through more productive and profitable agriculture and enhanced food security from the use of CGIAR wheat lines, we would like to recognize and thank these donors and partners and ask for their continued support.

Deadly disease wheat blast reaches South Asia

Blast wheat Duveiller Brazil 2009 (2)

Diseased wheat spikes carry shriveled or no grain at all.

One of the most fearsome and intractable wheat diseases in recent decades is wheat blast, caused by the fungus Magnaporthe oryzae.

First sighted in Brazil in 1985, blast is widespread in South American wheat fields, affecting as much as 3 million hectares in the early 1990s and seriously limiting the potential for wheat cropping on the region’s vast savannas.

The pathogen can be spread by seed and also survives on crop residues. Currently, most varieties being planted are susceptible and fungicides have not been effective in controlling the disease.

Experts had feared the possible spread of blast from Latin America to regions of Africa and Asia where conditions are similar. A severe outbreak of blast in key wheat districts of southwestern Bangladesh in early 2016 has confirmed the truth of these predictions. The consequences of a wider outbreak in South Asia could be devastating to a region of 300 million undernourished people, whose inhabitants consume over 100 million tons of wheat each year.

For more detail regarding wheat blast disease, suggested control measures, and links to selected scientific literature, click here.

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

By Mike Listman

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.

“Upgrading wheat productivity is a bit like building a race car,” Gwyn explained. “One person is working on the tires and suspension, another team is putting together the motor, and someone else is designing and assembling the interiors. Instead of working in isolation, how about if everyone coordinates to make sure the pieces fit and function together at high performance when the car is finished?”

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Jeff Gwyn (right), IWYP Program Director, was excited by conference participants’ enthusiasm and commitment. “Everyone embraced this unique opportunity to link and do things together from the start,” said Gwyn, pictured here with Richard Trethowan, University of Sydney wheat researcher and former CIMMYT breeder. “They really took control and started bringing the IWYP vision to fruition, with minimal encouragement.” (Photo: MListman/CIMMYT)

Wheat’s time has come
IWYP was launched in 2014 by UK’s Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC), the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (CIMMYT), Mexico’s Secretariat of Agriculture, Livestock, Rural Development, Fisheries and Food (SAGARPA), and the United States Agency for International Development (USAID). Its launch was in response to the urgent need to boost world wheat output by between 30 and 60 percent to meet expanding global demand for wheat-based foods by mid-century — particularly in developing countries, whose populations are rapidly rising and urbanizing.

Involving research teams from Argentina, Australia, India, Mexico, Spain, the United Kingdom, the first IWYP projects were chosen from research proposals submitted in 2015. They are on track to find and use traits and genes that enhance photosynthesis and increase its efficiency, boost spike development, optimize wheat’s canopy architecture, and increase wheat’s biomass and harvest index—that is, the ratio of grain to other plant parts.

According to Richard B. Flavell, Chair of the IWYP Science and Impact Executive Board, the time for advanced science to boost wheat’s genetic yield potential has arrived. “It’s timely for real,” Flavell said, crediting hundreds of biotech companies and bioinformatics entrepreneurs worldwide with laying critical groundwork. “The molecular genetics of plants, including wheat, started in the 1970s and people knew it would be applicable to plant breeding one day, but because breeding involves thousands of genes located over the whole genome, it’s taken this long to develop gene detection tools that can be used genome-wide and that are cheap enough to deploy at scale to aid breeding directly.”

Vital grain of civilization and food security

Gwyn said that IWYP has partnered with CIMMYT to lead the IWYP development platform (IWYP Hub), designed to deliver research findings and outputs to breeding programs worldwide as quickly as possible, and that public-private partnerships are a key feature of the IWYP Program.

“Private sector experts are advising and providing valuable strategic guidance and can carry out projects if they choose and also help with delivery,” Gwyn added. “Their participation is helping to keep IWYP relevant and they gain early insights on results.”

Wheat provides approximately 20 percent of humanity’s protein and calories. The rate of yearly genetic gain for yield has slowed in recent decades to less than 1 percent, according to Hans Braun, director of CIMMYT’s global wheat program. “To avoid grain shortages and price hikes that most sorely hurt poor consumers, who spend a large portion of their income just to eat each day, we need to achieve an annual yield growth rate of at least 1.7 percent,” said Braun.

IWYP research outputs are building on and will amplify physiological breeding approaches, according to Matthew Reynolds, CIMMYT wheat physiologist. “We’ve implemented these approaches recently in our wheat breeding programs and results from international trials already show a boost in genetic yield gains,” he said.

A long-term, global collaboration, IWYP brings together funding from public and private research organizations of many countries. Currently, this includes Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada (AAFC), BBSRC, CIMMYT, the Department of Biotechnology of India (DBT), the Grains Research and Development Corporation of Australia (GRDC), the Institut National de la Recherche Agronomique of France (INRA), SAGARPA, the Syngenta Foundation for Sustainable Agriculture (SFSA), the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), and USAID. Over the first five years, the growing list of partners aims to invest up to US $100 million. Further details can be found at http://iwyp.org.