Posts Tagged ‘CIMMYT’

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).

Strengthening African women’s participation in wheat farming

The work was led by Dina Najjar, Social and Gender Specialist, Social, Economics and Policy Research Theme, Sustainable Intensification and Resilient Production Systems Program (SIRPS), International Center for Agricultural Research in the Dry Areas (ICARDA), Amman, Jordan. (Photo: ICARDA)

Gender inequality is a recurring feature of many agricultural production systems across the wheat-growing regions of Africa, and women farmers often lack access to credit, land, and other inputs. The result: limited adoption of new innovations, low productivity and income, and a missed opportunity to enhance household food security and prosperity.

In contrast, enhancing women’s involvement in agricultural development generates positive impacts beyond the lives of individual women – with benefits felt across entire communities and nations.

Identifying and challenging obstacles

Challenging the obstacles that rural women face is a key priority of a wheat initiative managed by ICARDA and supported by the African Development Bank and the CGIAR Research Program on Wheat.

Action research to integrate women beneficiaries into the SARD-SC project in Sudan, Nigeria, and Ethiopia has helped identify actions and approaches that can be applied more widely to enhance women’s integration within diverse wheat production systems.

The main objectives were: increasing women’s income generation and contributions to food security, while addressing structural inequalities in access to inputs and services such as information, training, and microcredit.

Context-specific interventions

Our project employed context-specific interventions for growing grain, demonstrating technologies, adding value, and facilitating access to microcredit. Women’s involvement (65% in Sudan, 32% in Ethiopia and 12% in Nigeria) was often facilitated by gaining the trust and approval of male kin and support at the institutional levels – for example, recruiting women beneficiaries through the inclusion of female field staff: 4 in Nigeria, 4 in Sudan, and 6 in Ethiopia, all trained on gender integration.

Results have been promising so far:

  • The incomes of participating women have increased by up to 50% for those women who have participated in value addition (1,143 women in Sudan and 84 women in Nigeria).
  • The adoption of improved wheat varieties (by 716 women in Ethiopia, 24 women in Sudan, and 300 women in Nigeria) has increased wheat yields – by 11% in Ethiopia, 28% in Nigeria, and 62% in Sudan.
  • Workloads and drudgery have diminished through the use of mechanization (thresher, harvester) and improved access to key inputs such as pesticides (in Nigeria and Sudan).
  • The decision-making power of women has strengthened through participation in trainings and field days (about 30% women attended 16 field days in Sudan, 32 field days in Ethiopia, and 12 in Nigeria).
  • Enhanced access to microcredit (for 2500 women in Nigeria and 783 women in Sudan) has provided more sustained control over income-generating activities.

The awareness of key stakeholders — farmer associations, national research centres, lending institutions, and private seed companies — regarding the role that women can play as wheat grain and seed producers has also increased.

In addition, innovative approaches to value addition, a subject largely excluded from extension programs yet of great significance to women, were implemented and participating institutions gained new experience regarding how to integrate rural women effectively into their programming.

Recommendations for scaling-up and out

Key recommendations for expanding this work include increasing women farmer’s access to credit, so they can purchase inputs, extend their farmlands, and move into commercial farming; providing women with more ready access to markets for selling value-added products and to strengthen and pursue their entrepreneurial talents; and closely monitoring the progress of women farmers in productivity and profitability.

Husbands and male leaders, whose approval was often obtained for enabling the participation of women, were generally very supportive of women’s participation in SARD activities. Husbands in Sudan, for example, explained that their wives’ participation has been beneficial for the entire family (through increased yields, income, and/or reduced purchase of value added products from outside).

Insights gained from this work in Sudan, Nigeria, and Ethiopia can benefit efforts to address gender inequity elsewhere – generating benefit
s for women, households, and entire communities through increased food security and poverty alleviation, as well as more informed and inclusive decision-making in local agriculture.

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

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Photo: A. Cortes/CIMMYT

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Read more…

Available Now: The 2015 WHEAT Annual Report

High returns to global wheat research

Building on more than a half-century of proven impacts, the global wheat improvement system led by CGIAR centers continues to be the chief source for wheat farmers in Africa, Asia and Latin America of critical traits such as high yields, disease resistance and enhanced nutrition and quality.

A recently-published study found that CGIAR-derived varieties – nearly all traceable to CIMMYT and ICARDA breeding programs – cover more than 100 million of 220 million hectares worldwide and bring economic benefits of as much as $3.1 billion each year. To achieve impacts in wheat agri-food systems, CIMMYT and ICARDA depend on national partnerships in over 100 countries and critical support from CGIAR Fund Donors and other contributors, whom we sincerely thank on behalf of the world’s wheat farmers and consumers.

A critical juncture

Consumers in particular are benefiting from current low wheat grain prices, thanks in part to the success of WHEAT, but many studies foreshadow a future of rising demand and food price instability that could wreak havoc, particularly among poor consumers.

The unfolding scenario implies a yearly growth in wheat demand of 1.4 percent to 2030, at constant prices. But yield gains in wheat remain below 1 percent per year over the last decade, mainly because the easiest gains in wheat have already been achieved and more dramatic progress will require new approaches.

To ensure the affordable availability of wheat – a food staple that provides around 20 percent of protein and calories consumed worldwide – researchers need to expand field testing for disease resistance and heat and drought tolerance and to significantly raise wheat’s genetic yield potential.

Ethiopia 2015

Photo: Peter Lowe

For their part, during 2015 CIMMYT and ICARDA made excellent progress in merging their wheat programs to ensure partners and farmers’ quick and effective access to high-yielding, climate-resilient breeding lines, productive and resource-conserving cropping practices and knowledge needed to face the future of wheat, the vital grain of civilization and food security.

Hans-Joachim Braun

Director, CGIAR Research Program on Wheat

Read the full version of the 2015 WHEAT Annual Report here.

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.

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 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.