Author Archive

New Publications: Identifying common genetic bases for yield, biomass and radiation use efficiency in spring wheat

This article was originally published on the website of the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center on March 7, 2019.

For plant scientists, increasing wheat yield potential is one of the most prevalent challenges of their work. One key strategy for increasing yield is to improve the plant’s ability to produce biomass through optimizing the conversion of solar radiation into plant structures and grain, called radiation use efficiency (RUE). Currently, the process is 30-50% less efficient in wheat than in maize.

International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (CIMMYT) wheat physiologist Gemma Molero, in collaboration with Ryan Joynson and Anthony Hall of the Earlham Institute, has been studying the association of RUE related traits with molecular markers to identify specific genes associated with this trait.

In December 2018, her team published their results in the article “Elucidating the genetic basis of biomass accumulation and radiation use efficiency in spring wheat and its role in yield potential,” shedding light on some of the genetic bases of biomass accumulation and RUE in a specially designed panel of lines that included material with diverse expression of RUE over the wheat crop cycle.

Over the course of two years, Molero and fellow researchers evaluated a panel of 150 elite spring wheat genotypes for 31 traits, looking for marker traits associated with yield and other “sink”-related traits, such as, grain number, grain weight and harvest index, along with ‘’source’’-related traits, such as RUE and biomass at various growth stages. Many of the elite wheat lines that were tested encompass “exotic” material in their pedigree such as ancient wheat landraces and wheat wild relatives.

The scientists found that increases in both net rate of photosynthesis and RUE have the potential to make a large impact on wheat biomass, demonstrating that the use of exotic material is a valuable resource to help increase yield potential. This is the first time that a panel of elite wheat lines has been assembled using different sources of yield potential traits, and an important output from a large global endeavor to increase wheat yield, the International Wheat Yield Partnership (IWYP).

“We identified common genetic bases for yield, biomass and RUE for the first time. This has important implications for wheat researchers, breeders, geneticists, plant scientists and biologists,” says Molero.

The identification of molecular markers associated with the studied traits is a valuable tool for wheat improvement. Broadly speaking, the study opens the door for a series of important biological questions about the role of RUE in yield potential and in the ability to increase grain biomass.

In order to accommodate worldwide population increases and shifts in diet, wheat yield needs to double by 2050 — and genetic gains in wheat, specifically, must increase at a rate of 2.4 percent annually. Increasing biomass through the optimization of RUE along the wheat crop cycle can be an important piece in the puzzle to help meet this demand.

Read the full study here.

International Women’s Day 2019 and the CGIAR system

In celebration of International Women’s Day 2019, Victor Kommerell, Program Manager of the CGIAR Research Programs on MAIZE and WHEAT at the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center, reflects about International Women’s Day and gender research at CGIAR in a conversation with CGIAR science leaders.

Victor encourages gender in agriculture specialists to “Get out of your comfort zone!”

See the full article, as well as with videos, interviews and publications from across the CGIAR system on gender research, here.

Victor Kommerell is Program Manager of the CGIAR Research Programs on MAIZE and WHEAT(photo credit: CIMMYT)

A new beginning for CIMMYT’s Seed Health Unit

Courtney Brantley

February 27, 2019

Twenty years flew by for Monica Mezzalama, now former Pathologist and Head of the Seed Health Unit at the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (CIMMYT). At the end of January 2019, she made her way back to her hometown of Turin, Italy. Looking back at her tenure, Monica told us she felt “overwhelmed” by the opportunities that CIMMYT has given her.

Founded in 1988, the CIMMYT Seed Health Lab began with five employees, eventually expanding to eight people. With Mezzalama at the helm since 2001, the unit has become a crucial part of CIMMYT’s operation in conducting global and national germplasm exchanges. Some would say that seed distribution is the “lifeblood” of CIMMYT.

Around the world, CIMMYT is known as a reliable distributor of seeds. According to Mezzalama, this is crucial not only for farmers but for other researchers. Without proper regulatory precautions, one can jeopardize the work of others when handling pathogens that can affect seeds.

CIMMYT distributes seed in collaboration with more than 100 countries worldwide, many of which don’t receive support or seed from any other institution. According to Mezzalama, “CIMMYT’s reputation is on the line,” if healthy, quality seed is not delivered. Under Mezzalama’s watch there were never such problems with CIMMYT seeds.

According to Mezzalama, “CIMMYT’s reputation is on the line,” if healthy, quality seed is not delivered.

Seeds are judged on appearances, and must be good-looking as well as healthy. “Presentation standards are key because genetics aren’t immediately seen when the seeds are delivered,” Mezzalama states. If unattractive seed is discarded, then money is metaphorically being thrown away. Beyond saving money, quality seed control conducted by the Seed Health Unit helps keep data fresh and research up to date.

Good seed health depends on leadership like that from Mezzalama. Among the accomplishments of her two-decade tenure at CIMMYT, Monica formed and led a team that has responded quickly and effectively to emerging maize and wheat disease epidemics. In the midst of finding solutions to phytosanitary and biosafety challenges, she also took time to mentor young scientists and colleagues.

Monica Mezzalama will be moving on to the University of Turin in Italy to take on a new challenge in the academic world as a professor of Phytopathology. She expressed sadness at leaving CIMMYT, but gratitude at the opportunities CIMMYT has given her to grow professionally and the freedom to explore and experiment within her laboratory.

Mezzalama’s work and the team she leaves behind provide a strong base for continued safeguarding of CIMMYT’s international seed distribution efforts under her successor’s leadership. Down the road, Mezzalama hopes to maintain collaboration with CIMMYT in sustainable agricultural efforts.

Monica receives a plaque from Director General Martin Kropff recognizing her accomplishments at CIMMYT.

Scaling to new heights in agriculture

How to scale? This question frequently comes up as projects look to expand and replicate results. In order to sustain enduring impacts for projects after their lifetime, agricultural programs are turning to scaling strategies. These strategies look beyond the numbers that are reached within a project and include sustainability and transformation beyond the project context. Methods and tools exist that help anticipate realistic and responsible scaling pathways.

The Scaling team at the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (CIMMYT), led by Lennart Woltering, drives the initiative to incorporate scaling principles into existing and developing projects to maximize impact.

Maria Boa recently joined the team as Scaling Coordinator. Last year, Boa and Woltering participated in regional meetings on scaling in Morocco, Tunisia and Vietnam, which highlighted the need for better dissemination of information on how to approach scaling, in addition to its benefits.

Participants of the Tunisia workshop collaborate on a group exercise.

According to Boa, one of the key messages highlighted throughout these events was that in order for scaling to take hold and be integrated into projects, “…there needs to be a shift in mindset to accept that change is complex and that most projects only address a fraction of the problem.” This is essential in using scaling to effectively support long-term results.

At a workshop in Tunisia organized by ICARDA, IFAD and CIMMYT in November 2018, many participants expressed interest in scaling strategy tools, but were puzzled on how to integrate them into their specific projects. Many determined that they were stuck developing scaling strategies in an outdated framework, or one that strictly focused on using technological innovations. One participant admitted that she was skeptical of scaling perspectives because many did not lie in her field of expertise.

The November 2018 CCAFS SEA Conference on Scaling in Vietnam provided a platform for the sharing and learning of experiences in the scaling world. Some of the key messages from the event included the importance of scaling agricultural innovations taking place in complex systems of agricultural transformation, and the necessity of joint cooperation from all involved stakeholders and their openness to taking on challenges as a way to support sustainable system change.

According to Boa, scaling is a process that heavily relies on strategic collaboration for lasting impact. “Projects often don’t take into account how they’re a part of a larger chain of potential change,” she says.

Already recognized as a sustainable leader within scaling, CIMMYT is looking to strengthen scaling efforts in order to foster a more enduring impact within CIMMYT projects and beyond.

Lennart Woltering presents at the CCAFS SEA Conference in Vietnam.

Currently, the Scaling team at CIMMYT is conducting research on the “science of scaling” as it continues to function as a “help desk,” providing support integrating scaling principles in proposals and projects. Its primary role is to consider a project’s scaling needs and guide the development of an informed strategy to leverage efforts and resources. Boa hopes that by integrating responsible scaling approaches early on, projects can better balance the trade-offs associated with change.

Success in scaling is measured by a project’s enduring impact. However, stakeholders need more experience and capacity to see programs through to their end and be willing to monitor them beyond that lifespan. CIMMYT is developing and collecting the tools to support stakeholders with these specific capacities.

Developing a scaling strategy can also bring additional benefits: a discussion about scaling opens the door for raising awareness and fostering actions among different stakeholders towards system change and sustainable impact.

New publication: Climate change impact and adaptation for wheat protein

This announcement by Courtney Brantley was originally posted on CIMMYT.org

An improved wheat variety grows in the field in Islamabad, Pakistan. (Photo: A. Yaqub/CIMMYT)

Globally, wheat provides around 20 percent of the calories and protein in human diets. By mid-century, crop production must increase by 60 percent to meet global food demand and help reduce hunger, a challenge made even harder by climate change. “Climate Change Impact and Adaptation for Wheat Protein,” a study published in Global Change Biology in September 2018, examines why wheat grain protein concentration — a determinant of grain quality — is often overlooked in relation to improving global crop production in the face of climate change challenges.

“The impact of climate change on crops typically focuses on productivity; however, there are nutritional implications too,” says key contributor to the study Matthew Reynolds, wheat physiologist at the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (CIMMYT). “Since wheat also provides a significant proportion of protein in the diets of millions of resource-poor people, the negative impact of increased atmospheric CO2 on protein concentration in the grain is a disturbing fact,” stated Reynolds. “If not addressed, it could have a devastating impact on the health and livelihoods especially of marginalized people who cannot easily afford diverse sources of protein in their diet.”

Multi-location field trials, in addition to model testing, were used to systematically analyze the effects of increasing temperature, heat shocks, elevated atmospheric CO2 concentration, nitrogen, water deficiency and the combination of these factors on yield and wheat grain protein in the world’s main wheat producing regions. This study marked the first time that heat shock and high temperature interaction with elevated CO2 concentration was tested through an impact model. As noted in the study, “This is the most comprehensive study ever done of the effect of climate change on yield and the nutritional quality of one of the three major sources of human food security and nutrition.”

Read the full study here.

New index gauges seed companies’ progress reaching smallholders in Asia

Sowing rice seed in Nepal. (Photo: CIMMYT/P. Lowe)

The Access to Seeds Index, an initiative to measure and compare the efforts of global seed companies to enhance the productivity of smallholder farmers, recently released the Access to Seeds Index 2019 for South and Southeast Asia. The Index details what 24 of the leading seed companies are doing—and what they are failing to do—to provide quality seed to smallholder farmers in the region. It is the first time a tool has shed light on how companies are reaching smallholder farmers in the region.

Crucial partners for achieving food and nutritional security, seed companies can directly help boost smallholder farmer productivity through the distribution of improved seed. To date, however, they only reach 20 percent of the smallholder farmers in the region.

To evaluate the 24 seed companies, the Index uses scorecards to outline the portfolio and strengths of each company. The Index also assesses company performance based on 59 indicators across four categories: commitment, performance, transparency and leadership. The companies who scored highly on the Index are characterized by having sustainable strategies aimed at improving access to seeds for smallholder farmers in the region.

In South and Southeast Asia, small-scale farming is the predominate form of agricultural activity. To raise agricultural productivity while simultaneously confronting climate change, seed companies and their shared successes in plant breeding are beneficial, but only when they reach smallholder farmers. The Index provides a resource to help close that gap.

In the months to come, the Access to Seeds Index will also publish indexes covering global seed industry benchmarks.

Read the full Access to Seeds Index 2019 for South and Southeast Asia here.

IWYP annual report highlights new wheat lines, product development

The International Wheat Yield Partnership (IWYP), a partnership of public sector agencies and private industry focusing on innovations in wheat breeding for significant yield increases, recently released its 2017-2018 Annual Report.  Many new research discoveries have been recorded over the last year, from germplasm with traits to improve genetic yield potential to molecular genetic markers associated with a target trait and new methods and technology to improve screening of individual wheat lines.

Accomplishments include making wheat lines with higher biomass and grain yields available for release in national programs, validating the hypothesis that combining parents with high biomass and good harvest index can boost genetic gains.  IWYP researchers have also made publicly available new wheat lines with increased grain size and spike morphology, which several breeding companies in the UK, Europe and Brazil have requested. Yield trials have also led to the discovery of several physiological trait lines that outperform the best local and International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (CIMMYT) check varieties in over 27 environments.

The Partnership, which includes 30 projects in more than 50 laboratories in 12 countries, is now in its third year. Outputs from its earliest projects are currently being validated and integrated in a prebreeding pipeline at the IWYP Hub at CIMMYT for development into pre-products. This ensures the best “toolbox” of new traits, genetics, and technology to reach its critical challenge of raising genetic wheat yield potential 50 percent by 2035.

Read the full report here.

Borlaug 100 wheat in Australia

In a quest for high-yielding wheat to use in the feedlot sector, growers in Queensland, Australia, have released the variety Borlaug 100, developed by breeders at the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (CIMMYT). “The fact that the variety has been released in other countries, and that its excellence is contributing as parental material for crosses in many, many other countries, is further proof of our global contribution to multiple stakeholders and farmers,” says Thomas Payne, Head of Wheat Genetic Resources and the Wheat Germplasm Bank at CIMMYT. The Australian growers, who are also the founders of Rebel Seeds, sought to grow wheat without protein requirements to sell to feedlots, a void that needed filling in Australia at the time of the company’s founding in 2015. Since being brought to the country shortly afterwards via the CIMMYT-Australia-ICARDA-Germplasm Evaluation (CAIGE) project as a solution to this problem, Borlaug 100 is now set to be commercially released by Rebel Seeds into the niche feedlot market. Grown as milling wheat in Mexico, Borlaug 100 is thought to be a suitable replacement for the wheat currently marketed by Rebel Seeds as a source of feed grain for livestock. As a result, Borlaug 100 will make its debut in Australia’s National Variety Trials Guide in 2019. Richard Trethowan, a former CIMMYT wheat breeder and now a professor at the University of Sydney, consulted Rebel Seeds throughout their acquisition of Borlaug 100.

See full story published by Grain Central, found here.

New study confirms the nutritional and health benefits of zinc-biofortified wheat in India

A recent study by India and US scientists shows that when vulnerable young children in India consume foods with wheat-enriched zinc, the number of days they spend sick with pneumonia and vomiting significantly diminishes.

Velu Govindan (CIMMYT) inspects zinc-fortified wheat. Photo: CIMMYT files.

An estimated 26 percent of India’s population lacks adequate micronutrients in their diets. Developed through biofortification — the breeding of crop varieties whose grain features higher levels of micronutrients — high-zinc wheat can help address micronutrient deficiencies.

The results of the study, which took place over six months, confirm zinc-enhanced wheat’s potential to improve the diets and health of disadvantaged groups who consume wheat-based foods, but the authors conclude that longer-term studies are needed.

In partnership with HarvestPlus and partners in South Asia, the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (CIMMYT) has bred and fostered the release in the region of six zinc-enhanced varieties that are spreading among farmers and seed producers.

Click here to read the full study.

Available now: The 2017 WHEAT annual report

 

In a highly readable format, the 2017 annual report of the CGIAR Research Program on Wheat presents achievements and an overview of Program finances.

In 2017, national research agencies in 19 countries released 63 new wheat varieties, derived all or in part from the research of CIMMYT and its principal WHEAT partner, the International Center for Agricultural Research in the Dry Areas (ICARDA).

We thank WHEAT’s numerous partners and funders for these and many other exciting achievements. In particular, stable CGIAR Window 1 and 2 funding enables WHEAT to react quickly to urgent needs, as well as to improve program level coordination and learning, ensuring impact. The following countries and organizations are Window 1 funders of CGIAR: Australia, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, Canada, France, India, Japan, Korea, New Zealand, Norway, Sweden, Switzerland, the United Kingdom, and the World Bank. Funding agencies of Australia, the United Kingdom (DFID), USA (USAID), and China contribute vital Window 2 funding.

To read the full report, please click here.

See also a detailed, technical report on 2017 WHEAT activities, finances and achievements submitted to CGIAR.