Posts Tagged ‘breeding’

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).

Scientists in Afghanistan set new program to raise wheat harvests

February 17, 2017

Photo: Masud Sultan/CIMMYT

Photo: Masud Sultan/CIMMYT

KABUL (CIMMYT) – Inadequate access to new disease-resistant varieties and short supplies of certified seed are holding back wheat output and contributing to rising food insecurity in Afghanistan, according to more than 50 national and international wheat experts.

Wheat scientists and policymakers discussed challenges to the country’s most-produced crop during a two-day meeting at Agricultural Research Institute of Afghanistan (ARIA) headquarters in Kabul, as part of the 5th Annual Wheat Researchers’ Workshop in November 2016. They took stock of constraints to the 2017 winter wheat crop, including dry autumn weather and rapidly-evolving strains of the deadly wheat disease known as yellow rust.

“Old wheat varieties are falling prey to new races of rust,” said Qudrat Soofizada, director for Adaptive Research at ARIA, pointing out that the country’s 2016 wheat harvest had remained below 5 million tons for the second year in a row, after a record harvest of more than 5.3 million tons in 2014.

The workshop was attended by 51 participants belonging to several ARIA research stations and experts from the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (CIMMYT), the Australian Center for International Agricultural Research (ACIAR) and World Bank’s Afghanistan Agriculture Input Project (AAIP).

Afghanistan has been importing around 2.5 million tons of cereal grain — mainly wheat — in the last two years, with most of that coming from Kazakhstan and Pakistan, according to recent reports from the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations.

“Most wheat farmers save grain from prior harvests and use that as seed, rather than sowing certified seed of newer, high-yielding and disease resistant varieties,” said Rajiv Sharma, CIMMYT senior scientist and representative at the center’s office in Afghanistan. “This is holding back the country’s wheat productivity potential.”

Sharma explained that CIMMYT has been supporting efforts of Afghanistan’s Ministry of Agriculture, Irrigation and Livestock (MAIL) to boost supplies of certified seed of improved varieties and of critical inputs like fertilizer.

“CIMMYT has worked with Afghanistan wheat scientists for decades and more than 90 percent of the country’s certified wheat varieties contain genetic contributions from our global breeding efforts,” Sharma explained.

Since 2012, the center has organised more than 1,700 wheat variety demonstrations on farmers’ fields and trained over 1,000 farmers. CIMMYT scientists are also conducting field and DNA analyses of Afghan wheats, which will allow faster and more effective breeding.

The FAO reports showed that the government, FAO and diverse non-governmental organizations had distributed some 10,000 tons of certified seed of improved wheat varieties for the current planting season. With that amount of seed farmers can sow around 67,000 hectares, but this is only some 3 percent of the country’s approximately 2.5 million-hectare wheat area.

“We have been informing the National Seed Board about older varieties that are susceptible to the rusts,” said Ghiasudin Ghanizada, head of wheat pathology at MAIL/ARIA, Kabul, adding that efforts were being made to take such varieties out of the seed supply chain.

After discussions, Ghanizada and MAIL/ARIA associates M. Hashim Azmatyar and Abdul Latif Rasekh presented the technical program for breeding, pathology and agronomy activities to end 2016 and start off 2017.

Zubair Omid, hub coordinator, CIMMYT-Afghanistan, presented results of wheat farmer field demonstrations, informing that grain yields in the demonstrations ranged from 2.8 to 7.6 tons per hectare.

T.S. Pakbin, former director of ARIA, inaugurated the meeting and highlighted CIMMYT contributions to Afghanistan’s wheat improvement work. M.Q. Obaidi, director of ARIA, thanked participants for traveling long distances to attend, despite security concerns. Nabi Hashimi, research officer, CIMMYT-Afghanistan, welcomed participants on behalf of CIMMYT and wished them good luck for the 2016-17 season.

Wheat breeding trial results were presented by Zamarai Ahmadzada from Darulaman Research Station, Kabul; Aziz Osmani from Urad Khan Research Station, Herat; Shakib Attaye from Shisham Bagh Research Station, Nangarhar; Abdul Manan from Bolan Research Station, Helmand; Said Bahram from Central Farm, Kunduz; Najibullah Jahid from Kohkaran Research Station, Kandahar; and Sarwar Aryan from Mulla Ghulam Research Station, Bamyan.

Agronomy results from the research stations of Badakhshan, Herat, Kabul, Kunduz, Helmand and Bamyan were also presented and summarized by Abdul Latif Rasikh, head of Wheat Agronomy, ARIA headquarters, Badam Bagh, Kabul

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.

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.

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?”

RTrthowan-JGwyn

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.

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.

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.

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

APR-resistance-mr

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

Mike Listman

Scientists have sequenced and described a gene that can help wheat to resist four serious fungal diseases, potentially saving billions of dollars in yearly grain losses and reducing the need for farmers to use costly fungicides, once the gene is bred into high-yielding varieties.

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

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

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

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

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

Wheat Remote Sensing-flip

Photo Alfredo Saénz/CIMMYT.

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

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

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

Kenya wheat breeders win the 2015 BGRI Gene Stewardship Award

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From left to right: Sridhar Bhavani, CIMMYT; Godwin Macharia and Ruth Wanyera, KALRO; Jeanie Borlaug Laube and Ronnie Coffman, BGRI.

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

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

Since 1998, Ug99, which reduces grain to useless papery chaff, has been creeping across Africa to the Middle East from its origin in Uganda. Altogether, 11 confirmed races in the Ug99 lineage have been detected in Egypt, Ethiopia, Eritrea, Iran, Kenya, Mozambique, Rwanda, South Africa, Sudan, Tanzania, Uganda, Yemen and Zimbabwe, showing that the pathogen has evolved and expanded widely, according to new research.

Scientists fear the disease could decimate the global wheat supply if it spreads to the major Asian wheat growing areas of India and China.

The KALRO team has facilitated the testing of wheat lines from all over the world, screening close to 400,000 accessions since the project started in 2008, and currently able to screen some 50,000 lines a year, all under the frequent and severe natural infections of stem rust that occur at the team’s Njoro, Kenya, research station.

The team has also managed CIMMYT-Kenya “shuttle breeding,” whereby over the last decade lines developed in CIMMYT programs in Mexico and elsewhere are tested at Njoro. “Several new breeding lines from this effort combine high yields with resistance to Ug99 stem rust and to yellow rust and are included in international nurseries sent to partners worldwide,” said Bhavani.

“The KALRO team generates reliable phenotypic data to identify and characterize new resistance genes,” he said. “They also develop, release, and multiply seed of resistant varieties for Kenya, while conducting surveillance, training, and extension and promotion activities.”

Bhavani cited the release of seven new varieties that yield 30-40% more than older cultivars, contributing to an increase average wheat yields in Kenya from 2.4 to 3.0 tons per hectare in the last 5 years.

What is gene stewardship?
The BGRI Gene Stewardship Award recognizes a researcher or team of researchers in a national breeding program or other institution who demonstrate excellence in the development and spread of rust resistant wheat varieties, while encouraging the genetic diversity and complexity of disease resistance and furthering BGRI’s goal of responsible gene deployment and stewardship.

Together with the Indian Council of Agricultural Research (ICAR), the International Centre for Agricultural Research in Dry Areas (ICARDA), the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) and Cornell University, CIMMYT helped initiate BGRI in 2008. BGRI is fostered by the Durable Rust Resistance in Wheat (DRRW) project, a collaborative effort among 22 research institutions and led by Cornell University.