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.

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

By Katie Lutz

EL BATAN, Mexico (March 15, 2016)- John 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.

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

By Katie Lutz/CIMMYT

CIUDAD OBREGON, Mexico (March 11, 2016)- 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.

Global science team rescues rare wheat seed from the Fertile Crescent

By Katie Lutz/CIMMYT

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EL BATAN, Mexico(February 23, 2016)- 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.”

WHEAT Phase II Full Proposal: Your Partner Feedback

EL BATAN, Mexico (February 17, 2016)- 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

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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 .

Call for Applications for Basic Wheat Improvement Course

By Katie Lutz/CIMMYT

EL BATAN, Mexico (November 25, 2015) – Applications for the Basic Wheat Improvement Course (BWIC) are due 15 December.

The BWIC is a three-month intensive program at the Campo Experimental Norman E. Borlaug (CENEB) in Ciudad Obregon, Sonora, that targets young and mid-career scientists, focusing on applied breeding techniques in the field.

The training program has benefited national research programs since its inception. The increasing number of wheat scientists in major wheat producing countries reflects the great need and interest of national programs in training young scientists. One of the most frequent requests from countries and national programs is for more trained scientists.