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.

Knight of the Order of Agricultural Merit bestowed on WHEAT Independent Steering Committee Member

Katie Lutz

PrDrJohnPorterJohn R. Porter of The University of Copenhagen, the Natural Resources Institute of the University of Greenwich, UK, and member of the WHEAT Independent Steering Committee, was granted Knight of the French Order of Agriculture Merit at a ceremony on 1 March.

The Order of Agricultural Merit is awarded to those that have made extraordinary contributions to agriculture, via research or practice. The Order, which was established in July 1883 by the then French Ministry of Agriculture, is one of the most important recognitions awarded in France.

To become a knight, a person must be at least 30 years of age and have dedicated at least 15 years of service to the agricultural community, covering both developed and developing country farming.

“France has had an extremely important role in the development of agriculture and food production in Europe and the world. The production of food serves one of the most basic human needs, and this award and its history recognizes that fact,” said Porter in an acceptance speech at the French Embassy in Denmark. “I was extremely honored and surprised when I learned that I would be bestowed with this honor.”

Porter is best known for his pioneering work in the development of crop simulation models that are now regarded as being central to guiding research identifying new crop phenotypes, the impacts of and adaptation to climate change and carbon mitigation to the benefit of agriculture globally. He has also made major contributions to agriculture via his multi-disciplinary work in the response to arable crops, energy crops and complex agro-ecosystems to their environment with an emphasis on climate change, agronomy and ecosystem services.

Focusing on agriculture in the developing world, Porter took the initiative to bring the secretariat and hub of the CGIAR Research Program on Climate Change, Agriculture and Food Security (CCAFS), to his university in Copenhagen. He has also collaborated with European pasta manufacturers to develop methods to identify high quality sources of durum wheat prior to harvest by using a combination of models and remote sensing technologies.

Porter has published more than 140 papers in reviewed journals and has won three international prizes for his research and teaching. Apart from serving on the WHEAT Independent Steering Committee, he was appointed by the French Ministry of Agriculture and serves as a member of the Science Council of the French National Institute for Agricultural Research (INRA) and previously served as the president of the European Society for Agronomy.

Most recently, Porter led the writing of a critically important chapter for the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) on food production systems and food security for the IPCC 5th Assessment Report, which was the scientific bedrock of the COP21 agreement, signed December 2015.

Congratulations to Professor Dr John R. Porter on this prestigious award!

International partnership seeking to increase wheat yields finds research hub in “Mecca of wheat”

MattReyn

Photo by Mike Listman/CIMMYT

By Katie Lutz

An agreement formalizing an international partnership to increase wheat yields by 50 percent by 2034 was signed 1 January 2016. The agreement states that after years of planning and collaboration, the International Wheat Yield Partnership (IWYP) research will be hosted at The Norman E. Borlaug Experimental Station (CENEB) in Obregon, Mexico for an indefinite period of time.

Originally announced at The Borlaug Summit in March 2014, IWYP will address issues concerning the widespread demand for wheat.

The partnership was agreed upon by Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada (AAFC), Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC), International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (CIMMYT), Grains Research Development Corporation (GRDC), Institut National de la Recherche Agronomique (INRA), Syngenta Foundation for Sustainable Agriculture (SFSA), United States Agency for International Development (USAID) and United States Department of Agriculture – Agricultural Research Service (USDA-ARS) to officially declare a global commitment to increase wheat yields in early January 2016.

With the world’s population estimated to reach 9.5 billion by 2050, the World Bank estimates that global wheat production must increase by 60 percent to meet this rising demand. Farmers will be forced to increase wheat production with limited resources, such as lack of access to water, nutrient-rich land and the omnipresent threat of climate change.Under the Wheat Initiative, IWYP will function as a hub for new discoveries and research, and their introduction into farmer’s wheat fields in developed and developing nations across the globe.

IWYP represents a long-term commitment to food security of public and private research organizations across the globe. In the first five years, partners aim to invest up to $100 million to research projects focused on raising the yield potential of wheat.

This year, sub-grants from IWYP partners have already been awarded to a number of highly prestigious academic institutions and research organizations worldwide, including researchers at CIMMYT, University of Buenos Aires, University of California, Davis, John Innes Centre UK, Australian Genomics Centre and several others.

“We have been trying to get yield potential back on the research agenda for nearly 20 years. Now, with wheat being of global importance to food security, finally with IWYP we can put actions to words,” said CIMMYT wheat physiologist,” Matthew Reynolds.

For more information on The International Wheat Yield Partnership visit the website at iwyp.org.

Global science team rescues rare wheat seed from the Fertile Crescent

By Katie Lutz

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With Syria torn apart by civil war, a team of scientists in Mexico and Morocco are rushing to save a vital sample of wheat’s ancient and massive genetic diversity, sealed in seed collections of an international research center formerly based in Aleppo, but forced to leave during 2012-13.

The researchers are restoring and genetically characterizing more than 30,000 unique seed collections of wheat from the Syrian genebank of the International Center for Agricultural Research in the Dry Areas (ICARDA), which has relocated its headquarters to Beirut, Lebanon, and backed up its 150,000 collections of barley, fava bean, lentil, and wheat seed with partners and in the Global Seed Vault at Svalbard, Norway.

In March 2015, scientists at ICARDA were awarded The Gregor Mendel Foundation Innovation Prize for their courage in securing and preserving their seed collections at Svalbard, by continuing work and keeping the genebank operational in Syria even amidst war.

“With war raging in Syria, this project is incredibly important,” said Carolina Sansaloni, genotyping and DNA sequencing specialist at the Mexico-based International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (CIMMYT), which is leading work to analyze the samples and locate genes for breeding high-yield, climate resilient wheats. “It would be amazing if we could be just a small part of reintroducing varieties that have been lost in war-torn regions.”

Treasure from wheat’s cradle to feed the future

Much of wheat seed comes from the Fertile Crescent, a region whose early nations developed and depended on wheat as the vital grain of their civilizations. The collections could hold the key for future breeding to feed an expanding world population, according to Sansaloni.

“An ancient variety bred over time could contain a gene for resistance to a deadly wheat disease or for tolerance to climate change effects like heat and drought, which are expected to become more severe in developing countries where smallholder farmers and their families depend on wheat,” she explained.

Cross-region partners, global benefits

Photo Carolina

Carolina Sansaloni, genotyping and DNA sequencing specialist at CIMMYT

Sansaloni’s team has been sequencing DNA from as many as 2,000 seed samples a week, as well as deriving molecular markers for breeder- and farmer-valued traits, such as disease resistance, drought or heat tolerance and

qualities that contribute to higher yields and grain quality.

They are using a high-end DNA sequencing system located at the Genetic Analysis Service for Agriculture (SAGA), a partnership between CIMMYT and Mexico’s Secretariat of Agriculture, Livestock, Rural Development, Fisheries and Food (SAGARPA), and with the support of a private company from Australia, Diversity Arrays Technology (DArT).

The sequencer at SAGA can read 1600 samples of seed at once and develops more data than ever before. The HiSeq 2500 boils down data and shows the information at a “sequence level”, for example, height variations among wheat varieties.

Worldwide, there are few other machines that produce this kind of data and most are owned by private companies, explained Sansaloni. This was the first non-Latin American based project used by the HiSeq 2500 at CIMMYT.

“The success of this project shows what a fantastic opportunity for international collaboration we now have,” Sansaloni said. “I can’t even put a value on the importance of the data we have collected from this project. It’s priceless.”

After data has been collected, seed samples will be “regenerated” by ICARDA and CIMMYT. That is, the process of restoring old seed samples with healthy new seeds.

ICARDA and CIMMYT will share seed and data from the project and make these results available worldwide.

“With these new seeds, we hope to reconstruct ICARDA’s active and base collection of seeds over the next five years in new genebank facilities in Lebanon and Morocco,” said Fawzy Nawar, senior genebank documentation specialist, ICARDA.

Funded through the CGIAR Research Program on Wheat, the effort benefits both of the international centers, as well as wheat breeding programs worldwide, said Tom Payne, head of CIMMYT’s Wheat Germplasm Bank. “ICARDA is in a difficult situation, with a lack of easy access to their seeds and no facilities to perform genotyping,” he explained. “This was the perfect opportunity to collaborate.”

Photos by: Carolina Sansaloni/CIMMYT

WHEAT Phase II Full Proposal: Your Partner Feedback

Between 17th to 29th February 2016, the CGIAR Research Program on Wheat (WHEAT) is asking its research and development partners across the globe to provide feedback to the draft WHEAT Full Proposal for 2017-22. The Full Proposal is a research and funding plan that goes to the CGIAR Consortium and Fund Council on 31st March 2016. It includes feedback from previous partner consultations, notably the Global Partners Meeting (Istanbul, Dec 2014) and the Partner Priorities Survey (2013-14). WHEAT is very keen to get partners’ views on science content (the sections on Flagship Projects) and how WHEAT will partner in future (e.g. Partnership Strategy, sections 1.8 and 3.2).

Please access the WHEAT Phase II Full Proposal and partner feedback form here:

https://cimmyt.formstack.com/forms/wheat_phase_ii_full_proposal_partner_feedback

We are very grateful for your time and thoughts.

Sincerely,
Hans Braun, CRP Director

Wheat rust researcher named AAAS fellow

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 RaviPortrait-FlipCIMMYT 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).

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.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.