New study reveals how controlling wheat hormones can cool hot crops

By Katie Lutz

MEXICO CITY, Mexico (CIMMYT) — Reductions of spike-ethylene, a plant-aging hormone, could increase wheat yields by 10 to 15 percent in warm locations, according to a recent study published in New Phytologist journal.

Ethylene is usually produced by plants at different developmental stages and can cause a wide range of negative effects on plant growth and development.

Ravi Valluru observes wheat trials in the field at CIMMYT El Batán.

When hot weather hits a wheat field an increase in ethylene levels can lessen the amount of grains produced on ears or spikes by limiting the export of carbohydrates to pollen development.

“It was important to understand how different wheat varieties show yield responses to both ethylene gradients and ethylene inhibitors,” explained Ravi Valluru, wheat physiologist at the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (CIMMYT), adding that the research was primarily done in northwestern Mexico using both landraces and modern lines under heat-stressed field conditions.

Valluru is part of a collaborative team of scientists from CIMMYT and Britain’s Lancaster University investigating ways to reduce ethylene production in wheat plants as a means to improve yields in hot weather conditions.

The team treated a diverse set of wheat varieties with silver nitrate, an inorganic compound traditionally used for medicinal and other purposes and that has been shown to control ethylene levels in plants.

“We have known for a long time that ethylene has negative effects on crop yields, but efforts have been meager so far to bring this knowledge into breeding programs,” Valluru said. “It’s very exciting that CIMMYT has initiated the important steps toward bringing the ethylene story to wheat breeding through this project.”

The study has revealed that different wheat varieties responded differently to ethylene and ethylene inhibitors. That’s good news, because breeders can then select the appropriate lines for growing in warmer climates to incorporate into breeding programs.

According to Valluru, breeders have selected for high yield over many years that has inadvertently lowered ethylene expression in modern, improved varieties.

“Being a gas, ethylene is a kind of ‘ethereal’ plant growth regulator, but when produced at higher levels, has a major impact on grain setting and root growth,” said Matthew Reynolds, head of the wheat physiology team at CIMMYT and co-author of the study. “Understanding it and determining its genetic bases are significant steps forward, and we can expect that this knowledge will be applied in breeding.”

Crop sensors sharpen nitrogen management for wheat in Pakistan

By Abdul Hamid, Ansaar Ahmed and Imtiaz Hussain

Wheat researcher with Green Seeker at Wheat Research Institute Sakrand, Sind Province, Pakistan. Photo: Sarfraz Ahmed

ISLAMABAD (CIMMYT) – Pakistani and the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (CIMMYT) scientists are working with wheat farmers to test and promote precision agriculture technology that allows the farmers to save money, maintain high yields and reduce the environmentally harmful overuse of nitrogen fertilizer.

Wheat is planted on more than 9 million hectares in Pakistan each year. Of this, 85 percent is grown under irrigation in farming systems that include several crops.

Farmers may apply nearly 190 kilograms of nitrogen fertilizer per hectare of wheat, placing a third of this when they sow and the remainder in one-to-several partial applications during the crop cycle. Often, the plants fail to take up and use all of the fertilizer applied. More precise management of crop nutrients could increase farmers’ profits by saving fertilizer with no loss of yield, as well as reducing the presence of excess nitrogen that turns into greenhouse gases.

Precision nutrient management means applying the right source of plant nutrients at the right rate, at the right time and in the right place. CIMMYT is working across the globe to create new technologies that are locally adapted to help farmers apply the most precise dosage of fertilizer possible at the right time, so it is taken up and used most effectively by the crop.

CIMMYT and the Borlaug Institute for South Asia (BISA) have developed the application “urea calculator” for cell phones. In this process, a Green Seeker handheld crop sensor quickly assesses crop vigor and provides readings that are used by the urea calculator to furnish an optimal recommendation on the amount of nitrogen fertilizer the wheat crop needs.

Tests with the crop sensor/calculator combination on more than 35 farmer fields during 2016 in Pakistan results showed that 35 kilograms of nitrogen per hectare could be saved without any loss in grain yield. This technology is being evaluated and demonstrated in Pakistan as part of the CIMMYT-led Agricultural Innovation Program (AIP), supported by the United States Agency for International Development in collaboration with Pakistan partners.

CIMMYT recently began work in four provinces of Pakistan, providing Green Seekers and training to AIP research, extension and private partners. Fifty-five specialists in all took part in training events held at the Wheat Research Institute Sakrand, Sind Province; the Rice Research Institute KSK, Punjab Province; and the Model Farm Service Center, Nowshera, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Province.

Training and new partnerships will help national partners to demonstrate and disseminate sustainable farming practices to wheat farmers throughout Pakistan.

This story was originally published on www.cimmyt.org.

WHEAT Independent Steering Committee welcomes two new members

The WHEAT Independent Steering Committee welcomes two new members in 2017, Ximena Lopez and Ron DePauw.

López graduated with a food industry engineering degree from University of Santiago, Chile, and obtained her Master of Science at Polytechnic University of Valencia, Spain. López worked as a consultant for the Pan-American Health Organization and served as the national representative for the International Cereal Chemists. López has a variety of experiences, in Quality Control and Flour Treatment and Quality Assurance Systems, specialized in cereal fortification in the American Institute of Bread (AIB.) López is the author of over 20 scientific publications and 100 journal articles. Currently, her research is focused on biotechnology and the development of functional food based cereals.

DePauw is an internationally recognized scientist, who has devoted his life to reduce business risk for producers, to meet consumers’ requests for safe and nutritious food, to improve end-use suitability factors and to contribute to an overall betterment of society and farm economy. DePauw has published 228 peer reviewed manuscripts, 10 book chapters with another “in press”, and close to 1000 miscellaneous publications including conference abstracts. He has received numerous awards including the Order of Canada, Saskatchewan Order of Merit, Gold Medal from Professional Institute of Canada which has only been awarded 40 times to someone in the field of science, and an Honorary Doctor of Science from the University of Saskatchewan.

As part of the Independent Steering Committee, the two will help set WHEAT priorities and implement and review research-for-development. Congratulations and welcome, Ximena and Ron!

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

rothamsted

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.

Read more…

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

20161215_124736

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.”

2nd call for proposals from the International Wheat Yield Partnership

The International Wheat Yield Partnership (IWYP) is initiating its Second Competitive Funding Call by inviting creative, forward-looking proposals that seek to discover resilient and sustainable approaches to substantially increase the genetic yield potential of wheat, as defined by grain yield under the absence of stress, for the benefit of developed and developing countries. It is anticipated that wheat yield potential can be enhanced by:

  • Increasing carbon capture before floweringiwyp
  • Increasing biomass
  • Optimizing harvest index
  • Enhancing photosynthetic pathways
  • Specific changes in plant architecture
  • Modifying phenology, e.g., flowering time
  • Hybrid wheat system development
  • Root structure and growth
  • Faster / alternative breeding methods
  • Modeling to define best traits per environment

The topics above are given as an illustrative list for areas of research that are being sought and we will consider other research topics that pertain to genetic yield potential. Proposals that concentrate mainly on plant stresses or agronomic systems will be considered out of scope. The proposed research should be based on Triticeae germplasm or lead to discoveries directly relevant to wheat.

With this initiative IWYP is seeking breakthroughs in genetic yield potential beyond what is expected to occur in ongoing breeding programs. Therefore, new or different approaches and/or novel techniques are envisaged. Research outputs should be clearly defined in terms of specifically timed milestones and quantifiable deliverables. Proposals where outputs are only descriptions of plant processes will be considered out of scope.

The selection process will be two-stage whereby applicants must first submit a Pre-Proposal due by 3 March 2017. Full details and application instructions can be found at http://iwyp.org/ beginning 16 December 2016. Proposals that do not closely adhere to the instructions, formats and timelines will not be considered. Proposals must be academic led and can be from single institutions, although national and especially international consortia are strongly encouraged. Applications involving private industry collaborators are also strongly encouraged. Funding requests can range from 1 to 3 years but should not exceed a maximum cash request of US$2 Million over 3 years. Full-Proposals will be invited from selected Pre-Proposals. Proposals will be judged by their scientific excellence, breakthrough potential and relevance to markedly improving the genetic yield potential of wheat.

The successful proposals will be integrated into the IWYP Science Program led by the Program Director in liaison with a Scientific Advisory Committee. Discoveries made in the Science Program will be further characterized, validated and developed in advanced wheat lines for rapid deployment in breeding programs by the IWYP Hub at CIMMYT.

The International Wheat Yield Partnership (IWYP) is a major public/private initiative being supported by research funders, international agencies, national and international research organizations and industry partners. Its goal is to increase wheat yields globally in both developed and developing countries. IWYP is led by a Program Director, an international Board of funders, scientific experts and members from commercial breeding companies.

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.

ths

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.

 

 

Announcement: 2017 CIMMYT basic wheat improvement course

A unique professional development opportunity for early-career wheat scientists in the public and private sectors, this course aims to impart the skills and knowledge needed to design and run a sustainable breeding program, familiarize participants with improved wheat germplasm and new wheat improvement technology, improve awareness of support disciplines (pathology, physiology, quality, statistics, biotechnology, GIS, and social sciences), and foster positive attitudinal changes (confidence, motivation, and appreciation of team work and interdisciplinary research).

To register or read more about the course, click here.

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.