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A “track record of delivering local solutions with a global perspective:” Review confirms impact and importance of WHEAT research

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Wheat trainees and CIMMYT staff examine wheat plants in the field at the experimental station in Toluca, Mexico. Credit: CIMMYT / Alfonso Cortés

The CGIAR Research Program on Wheat (WHEAT) has “a track record of delivering local solutions with a global perspective — and is well positioned to continue this trajectory in the next decade.”

This was a key finding of a recent review of the program aimed to assess WHEAT’s 2017-2019 delivery of quality science and effectiveness, as well as to provide insights and lessons to inform the program’s future.

“Wheat as a crop is bound to be central to global food security in the foreseeable future,” the reviewers stated.

The crop currently contributes 20% of the world population’s calories and protein—and global demand is estimated to increase by 44% between 2005-07 and 2050.

WHEAT — led by the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (CIMMYT) with the International Center for Agricultural Research in the Dry Areas (ICARDA) as a key research partner —has two pillars that are essential to meeting this demand: raising potential yield through breeding and closing the yield gap through sustainable intensification at field, farm and landscape scales.

Key recommendations included supporting strategic investment in research partner network development and maintenance, and continuing WHEAT’s trajectory towards modernizing breeding processes and integrating sustainable intensification approaches, including mechanization.

The reviewers warned of challenges for the way ahead, pointing out that partnerships — and WHEAT’s reputation as a reliable partner — are vulnerable to funding volatility. The review also raised concerns about the potential fragmentation of the global breeding program, restrictions to the international exchange of germplasm and ideas, “misguided” emphasis on minor crops, and CGIAR’s “focus on process at the expense of results.”

“This review cuts to the core of what’s so critical—and at risk – not only with our program but wheat research in general,” said Hans Braun, director of the CIMMYT Global Wheat Program and the CGIAR Research Program on Wheat. “Global collaboration and the exchange of improved seeds, data, and especially information.”

“The reviewers rightly point out that limited resources will lead to competition and dampen this collaboration—even between scientists in the same program. We must address this potential risk to improve integration and continue our life saving work.” 

“In most of the developing world, the alliance of public sector and CGIAR wheat breeding programs, as well as some national public breeding programs on their own, will remain dominant providers of wheat varieties, until either functioning seed royalty collection systems are established and/or hybrid wheat becomes a reality,” he added.

WHEAT’s strength is its robust global network of research for development partners and scientists linked to global breeding in a ‘wide adaptation’ approach,” said Victor Kommerell, program manager for the CGIAR Research Programs on Wheat and Maize.

“This review underscores that breaking up the breeding program could cause lasting damage to this network.”

More key findings include:

  • WHEAT is effective and well-managed: In 2017- 2019, WHEAT mainly achieved its planned outputs and outcomes, and in addition achieved unplanned outcomes. For the three years reviewed, WHEAT did not drop any research line.
  • WHEAT’s strength is its partnerships: WHEAT has catalyzed a global network of research and development (R&D) that has delivered and continues to deliver a disproportionate wealth of outputs in relation to investment.
  • WHEAT creates, and thrives on, collaboration: The predominantly public nature of wheat R&D (In the period 1994–2014, the public sector accounted for 63% of global wheat varietal releases and more than 95% of releases in developing countries) favors collaboration, compared with other industries.
  • WHEAT facilitates shared success: The long history of collaboration between CIMMYT, ICARDA and national partners has fostered a sense of belonging to the International Wheat Improvement Network that permits free exchange of information and germplasm, allowing the best varieties to be released, irrespective of origin. International nursery testing delivers elite lines for national program use; data shared by national programs informs WHEAT’s next crossing cycle.

Read more in a 2-page brief summarizing key findings, conclusions and recommendations or on the CGIAR Advisory Services page.

Massive-scale genomic study reveals wheat diversity for crop improvement

A team of scientists has found desirable traits in wheat’s extensive and unexplored diversity.

This press release was originally posted on the website of the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (CIMMYT).

A new study analyzing the diversity of almost 80,000 wheat accessions reveals consequences and opportunities of selection footprints. (Photo: Eleusis Llanderal/CIMMYT)

Researchers working on the Seeds of Discovery (SeeD) initiative, which aims to facilitate the effective use of genetic diversity of maize and wheat, have genetically characterized 79,191 samples of wheat from the germplasm banks of the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (CIMMYT) and the International Center for Agricultural Research in the Dry Areas (ICARDA).

The findings of the study published today in Nature Communications are described as “a massive-scale genotyping and diversity analysis” of the two types of wheat grown globally — bread and pasta wheat — and of 27 known wild species.

Wheat is the most widely grown crop globally, with an annual production exceeding 600 million tons. Approximately 95% of the grain produced corresponds to bread wheat and the remaining 5% to durum or pasta wheat.

The main objective of the study was to characterize the genetic diversity of CIMMYT and ICARDA’s internationally available collections, which are considered the largest in the world. The researchers aimed to understand this diversity by mapping genetic variants to identify useful genes for wheat breeding.

From germplasm bank to breadbasket

The results show distinct biological groupings within bread wheats and suggest that a large proportion of the genetic diversity present in landraces has not been used to develop new high-yielding, resilient and nutritious varieties.

“The analysis of the bread wheat accessions reveals that relatively little of the diversity available in the landraces has been used in modern breeding, and this offers an opportunity to find untapped valuable variation for the development of new varieties from these landraces”, said Carolina Sansaloni, high-throughput genotyping and sequencing specialist at CIMMYT, who led the research team.

The study also found that the genetic diversity of pasta wheat is better represented in the modern varieties, with the exception of a subgroup of samples from Ethiopia.

The researchers mapped the genomic data obtained from the genotyping of the wheat samples to pinpoint the physical and genetic positions of molecular markers associated with characteristics that are present in both types of wheat and in the crop’s wild relatives.

According to Sansaloni, on average, 72% of the markers obtained are uniquely placed on three molecular reference maps and around half of these are in interesting regions with genes that control specific characteristics of value to breeders, farmers and consumers, such as heat and drought tolerance, yield potential and protein content.

Open access

The data, analysis and visualization tools of the study are freely available to the scientific community for advancing wheat research and breeding worldwide.

“These resources should be useful in gene discovery, cloning, marker development, genomic prediction or selection, marker-assisted selection, genome wide association studies and other applications,” Sansaloni said.


Read the study:

Diversity analysis of 80,000 wheat accessions reveals consequences and opportunities of selection footprints.

Interview opportunities:

Carolina Sansaloni, High-throughput genotyping and sequencing specialist, CIMMYT.

Kevin Pixley, Genetic Resources Program Director, CIMMYT.

For more information, or to arrange interviews, contact the media team:

Ricardo Curiel, Communications Officer, CIMMYT. r.curiel@cgiar.org

Rodrigo Ordóñez, Communications Manager, CIMMYT. r.ordonez@cgiar.org

Acknowledgements:

The study was part of the SeeD and MasAgro projects and the CGIAR Research Program on Wheat (WHEAT), with the support of Mexico’s Secretariat of Agriculture and Rural Development (SADER), the United Kingdom’s Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC), and CGIAR Trust Fund Contributors. Research and analysis was conducted in collaboration with the National Institute of Agricultural Botany (NIAB) and the James Hutton Institute (JHI).

About CIMMYT:

The International Maize and What Improvement Center (CIMMYT) is the global leader in publicly-funded maize and wheat research and related farming systems. Headquartered near Mexico City, CIMMYT works with hundreds of partners throughout the developing world to sustainably increase the productivity of maize and wheat cropping systems, thus improving global food security and reducing poverty. CIMMYT is a member of the CGIAR System and leads the CGIAR programs on Maize and Wheat and the Excellence in Breeding Platform. The Center receives support from national governments, foundations, development banks and other public and private agencies. For more information visit www.cimmyt.org.

WHEAT Launches 2019 Annual Report

The CGIAR Research Program on Wheat (WHEAT) is proud to release our 2019 Annual Report, celebrating shared achievements through partnerships around the world for the 7th year of the program.

In this year’s report, we highlight cutting edge work by researchers and partners — particularly our primary research partner, the International Center for Agricultural Research in the Dry Areas (ICARDA) — to help farmers grow wheat that is nutritious, resilient, and high-yielding—while decreasing environmental impact.

DNA fingerprinting, a smartphone-powered warning system, no-till innovations and the joint release of 50 new CGIAR-derived wheat varieties are just a few markers of success in a busy, challenging, and exciting year.

The threat of the current global pandemic highlights the crucial role wheat plays in the health and livelihoods of millions. We look forward to continued productive collaborations as we transition with our partners into an integrated, inclusive “One CGIAR” designed to meet the UN Sustainable Development Goals.

Read more in the full SPARK, web-based annual report here.

Publication summary: Retrospective Quantitative Genetic Analysis and Genomic Prediction of Global Wheat Yields

A new quantitative genetics study makes a strong case for the yield testing strategies the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (CIMMYT) uses in its wheat breeding program.

Wheat fields at CIMMYT’s Campo Experimental Norman E. Borlaug (CENEB) in Ciudad Obregón. Photo: CIMMYT.

The process for breeding for grain yield in bread wheat at the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (CIMMYT) involves three-stage testing at an experimental station in the desert environment of Ciudad Obregón, in Mexico’s Yaqui Valley. Because the conditions in Obregón are extremely favorable, CIMMYT wheat breeders are able to replicate growing environments all over the world, and test the yield potential and climate-resilience of wheat varieties for every major global wheat growing area. These replicated test areas in Obregón are known as selection environments (SEs).

This process has its roots in the innovative work of wheat breeder and Nobel Prize winner Norman Borlaug, more than 50 years ago.  Wheat scientists at CIMMYT, led by wheat breeder Philomin Juliana, wanted to see if it remained effective.

The scientists conducted a large quantitative genetics study comparing the grain yield performance of lines in the Obregón SEs with that of lines in target growing sites throughout the world. They based their comparison on data from two major wheat trials: the South Asia Bread Wheat Genomic Prediction Yield Trials in India, Pakistan and Bangladesh initiated by the U.S. Agency for International Development Feed the Future initiative, and the global testing environments of the Elite Spring Wheat Yield Trials.

The findings, published in Retrospective Quantitative Genetic Analysis and Genomic Prediction of Global Wheat Yields, in Frontiers in Plant Science, found that the Obregón yield testing process in different SEs is very efficient in developing high-yielding and resilient wheat lines for target sites.

The authors found higher average heritabilities, or trait variations due to genetic differences, for grain yield in the Obregón SEs than in the target sites (44.2 and 92.3% higher for the South Asia and global trials, respectively), indicating greater precision in the SE trials than those in the target sites.   They also observed significant genetic correlations between one or more SEs in Obregón and all five South Asian sites, as well as with the majority (65.1%) of the Elite Spring Wheat Yield Trial sites. Lastly, they found a high ratio of selection response by selecting for grain yield in the SEs of Obregón than directly in the target sites.

“The results of this study make it evident that the rigorous multi-year yield testing in Obregón environments has helped to develop wheat lines that have wide-adaptability across diverse geographical locations and resilience to environmental variations,” said Philomin Juliana, CIMMYT associate scientist and lead author of the article.

“This is particularly important for smallholder farmers in developing countries growing wheat on less than 2 hectares who cannot afford crop losses due to year-to-year environmental changes.”

In addition to these comparisons, the scientists conducted genomic prediction for grain yield in the target sites, based on the performance of the same lines in the SEs of Obregón. They found high year-to-year variations in grain yield predictabilities, highlighting the importance of multi-environment testing across time and space to stave off the environment-induced uncertainties in wheat yields.

“While our results demonstrate the challenges involved in genomic prediction of grain yield in future unknown environments, it also opens up new horizons for further exciting research on designing genomic selection-driven breeding for wheat grain yield,” said Juliana. 

This type of quantitative genetics analysis using multi-year and multi-site grain yield data is one of the first steps to assessing the effectiveness of CIMMYT’s current grain yield testing and making recommendations for improvement—a key objective of the new Accelerating Genetic Gains in Maize and Wheat for Improved Livelihoods (AGG) project, which aims to accelerate the breeding progress by optimizing current breeding schemes.

This work was made possible by the generous support of the Delivering Genetic Gain in Wheat (DGGW) project funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and the UK Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office (FCDO) and managed by Cornell University; the U.S. Agency for International Development’s Feed the Future initiative; and several collaborating national partners who generated the grain yield data.

Read the full article here: https://doi.org/10.3389/fpls.2020.580136

Excellence in Agronomy 2030 initiative launched at African Green Revolution Forum

New research platform focuses on helping smallholder farmers sustainably increase production and adapt to climate change, reducing yield and efficiency gaps in major crops

Nine CGIAR centers, supported by the Big Data Platform, launched the Excellence in Agronomy 2030 initiative today at the African Green Revolution Forum (AGRF) online summit.

The Excellence in Agronomy 2030 (EiA 2030) initiative will assist millions of smallholder farmers to intensify their production systems while preserving key ecosystem services under the threat of climate change. This initiative, co-created with various scaling partners, represents the collective resolve of CGIAR’s agronomy programs to transform the world’s food systems through demand- and data-driven agronomy research for development.

EiA 2030 will combine big data analytics, new sensing technologies, geospatial decision tools and farming systems research to improve spatially explicit agronomic recommendations in response to demand from scaling partners. Our science will integrate the principles of Sustainable Intensification and be informed by climate change considerations, behavioral economics, and scaling pathways at the national and regional levels.

A two-year Incubation Phase of EiA 2030 is funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. The project will demonstrate the added value of demand-driven R&D, supported by novel data and analytics and increased cooperation among centers, in support of a One CGIAR agronomy initiative aiming at the sustainable intensification of farming systems.

Speaking on the upcoming launch, the IITA R4D Director for Natural Resource Management, Bernard Vanlauwe, who facilitates the implementation of the Incubation Phase, said that “EiA 2030 is premised on demand-driven agronomic solutions to develop recommendations that match the needs and objectives of the end users.”

Christian Witt, Senior Program Officer from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, lauded the initiative as a cornerstone for One CGIAR. “It is ingenious to have a platform like EiA 2030 that looks at solutions that have worked in different settings on other crops and whether they can be applied in a different setting and on different crops,” Witt said.

Martin Kropff, Director General of the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (CIMMYT), spoke about the initiative’s goals of becoming the leading platform for next-generation agronomy in the Global South, not only responding to the demand of the public and private sectors, but also increasing efficiencies in the development and delivery of solutions through increased collaboration, cooperation and cross-learning between CGIAR centers and within the broader agronomy R&D ecosystem, including agroecological approaches.

CGIAR centers that are involved in EiA include AfricaRice, the International Center for Tropical Agriculture (CIAT), the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (CIMMYT), the International Potato Center (CIP), the International Center for Agricultural Research in the Dry Areas (ICARDA), World Agroforestry Center (ICRAF), the International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics (ICRISAT), the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA), and the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI)

BGRI launches virtual global wheat conference Oct. 7-9

This press release was originally posted on the website of the Borlaug Global Rust Initiative (BGRI).

As the world grapples with a disastrous human health crisis, scientists will gather virtually October 7-9 to discuss strategies to safeguard the health of one of the planet’s most important food sources — wheat.

The Borlaug Global Rust Initiative’s (BGRI) virtual technical workshop will bring together scientists at the forefront of wheat science for cutting-edge training and knowledge sharing. Experts from global institutions such as Cornell University, the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (CIMMYT), the International Center for Agricultural Research in the Dry Areas (ICARDA), and the John Innes Centre, with presenters from Ethiopia, Kenya, India, Australia, Finland, Mexico, the United Kingdom and United States, will lead in-depth talks and discussions on the most pressing challenges facing global wheat security.

Event registration is now open.

“Right now we are witnessing the devastation that the global spread of disease can cause, and it underscores the continual threat that diseases pose to our most important food crops,” said Ronnie Coffman, vice-chair of the BGRI and an international professor in Cornell’s Department of Global Development and School of Integrative Plant Science. “Devastating wheat epidemics would be catastrophic to human health and wellbeing. October’s workshop is an opportunity for wheat scientists to converge virtually for the practical training and knowledge-sharing we need to fight numerous challenges.”

The three-day workshop in October will be broken up into sessions with keynotes from leading experts and presentations focused on key areas of wheat research:

  • Breeding technologies
  • Disease surveillance
  • Molecular host-pathogen interaction
  • Disease resistance
  • Gene stewardship

The BGRI is a strong proponent of responsible gene deployment to ensure the efficacy of disease resistant genes available to breeders. Since 2012, the BGRI has bestowed the Gene Stewardship Award in recognition of excellence in the development, multiplication and/or release of rust resistant wheat varieties that encourage diversity and complexity of resistance. The winners of the 2020 BGRI Gene Stewardship award will be announced at the workshop.

Maricelis Acevedo, associate director for science for the Delivering Genetic Gain in Wheat (DGGW) project and researcher in Cornell’s Department of Global Development, said: “The BGRI has been at the forefront of developing the next generation of wheat warriors, especially in strengthening the technical and professional skills of women and men scientists from developing countries. We are taking a global approach to help reduce the threat of diseases that can overwhelm farmers’ wheat fields. Issues related to improving world food security, especially in the face of climate change, can only be addressed by a diverse and united global community.”

She added: “The BGRI’s technical workshop has long been the premiere meeting ground for wheat scientists around the world. It’s more important than ever that we come together to address the challenges before us.”

The BGRI 2020 Technical Workshop originally planned for June 1-4 in Norwich, United Kingdom was postponed due to COVID-19.

Wheat is one of the world’s largest primary commodity, with global production of over 700 million tons, grown on over 215 million hectares. Eaten by over 2.5 billion people in 89 countries, wheat provides 19% of the world’s total available calories and 20% of all protein.

Over the past 20 years, the global area under wheat production has not increased. To produce the required amount of wheat needed to feed the world’s growing population, researchers predict wheat yields must increase at least 1.4% per acre through 2030.

Wheat faces pressure from the changing environment and diseases, especially rust diseases increasingly prevalent in wheat-growing regions everywhere. The BGRI was formed in 2005 in response to a novel strain of rust discovered in East Africa known as Ug99 that posed risks of epidemic proportions to global wheat production. Norman Borlaug galvanized global scientists and donors in a bid to combat Ug99 and other disease pressures.

“The world averted disaster thanks to the commitment of researchers and farmers from all over the world who participated in the BGRI’s coordinated global response,” said Coffman. “With the backing of far-sighted donors, the BGRI focused on delivering rust-resilient varieties of wheat to farmers around the world, and dedicating our efforts to small-holder farmers in wheat-producing countries in Africa and Asia — men and women who do not always have access to new technologies and improved seed.” 

Registration page is now live.

The BGRI is a community of hunger fighters dedicated to protecting the world’s wheat. The initiative receives funding through the DGGW project, supported by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and the UK Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office.

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Alison Bentley to be new CIMMYT Global Wheat Program and WHEAT director

The new director of the CGIAR Research Program on Wheat brings many years of experience in wheat genetics, wheat genetic resources and wheat pre-breeding.

This story by Marta Millere was originally published on the CIMMYT website.

Alison Bentley (right) and Martin Jones of the University of Cambridge inspect wheat in a glasshouse. (Photo: Toby Smith/Gloknos)

In November 2020, Alison Bentley will be joining the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (CIMMYT) as the new director of the Global Wheat Program and the CGIAR Research Program on Wheat (WHEAT). She will be succeeding Hans Braun, who has steered CIMMYT’s Global Wheat Program for the last 16 years, and has led the CGIAR Research Program on Wheat since its establishment in 2014.

Bentley expressed that she is thrilled to join CIMMYT and excited about the opportunity to harness science and breeding to improve livelihoods. She believes in a collective vision for equitable food supply and in science-led solutions to deliver impact.

“It really is an exciting time for wheat research: the international community has worked together to produce sequence and genomic resources, new biological and physiological insights, a wealth of germplasm and tools for accelerating breeding. This provides an unparalleled foundation for accelerating genetic gains and connecting ideas to determine how we can practically apply these tools and technologies with partners to deliver value-added outputs,” she said.

Bentley has worked on wheat — wheat genetics, wheat genetic resources and wheat pre-breeding — her entire career. She is the UK’s representative on the International Wheat Initiative Scientific Committee, and is a committee member for the Genetics Society, the UK Plant Sciences Federation, the Society of Experimental Botany, and the Editorial Board of Heredity.

Bentley obtained her PhD from the University of Sydney, Australia, in 2007. She then joined the National Institute of Agricultural Botany (NIAB) in the UK, where she progressed from Senior Research Scientist (2007) to Program Leader for Trait Genetics (2013), and Director of Genetics and Breeding (since 2016).

Currently, Bentley is involved in international research projects in Ethiopia, The Gambia, Ghana, India and Pakistan. She leads a number of UK-India projects with partners including Punjab Agricultural University, the Indian National Institute of Plant Genome Research and the University of Cambridge, studying variation and developing wheat and other cereal germplasm with enhanced resource use efficiency.

New genetic analysis advances the global quest for yellow rust resistant wheat

A wheat leaf infected with yellow rust, also known as stripe rust. Photo: Thomas Lumpkin/CIMMYT

Yellow rust, also known as stripe rust, is a tenacious and widespread fungal disease that threatens wheat all over the world. The fungal pathogen that causes the rust — Puccinia striiformis — is prevalent in more than 60 countries, and an estimated 88% of the world’s wheat production is considered vulnerable, with up to 100% losses. 

A number of factors – including favorable weather conditions, the adaptation of existing races and emergence of new ones, and a changing climate – have caused a recent uptick in severe outbreaks. Farmers can use fungicides and farming management practices to battle the fungus, but sowing resistant seeds is widely considered as the most cost-effective, environmentally-safe and sustainable way to beat it.

A new analysis by wheat scientists at the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (CIMMYT) published in Scientific Reports provides valuable insights and a deep resource of genetic information to increase the speed and accuracy of efforts to breed yellow rust resistant wheat.

To understand the shared genetic basis of yellow rust resistance over time and in three geographic regions, CIMMYT scientists performed a large genome-wide association study leveraging a dataset of 43,706 observations on 23,346 wheat lines evaluated between 2013 and 2019 at sites in India, Kenya and Mexico.

Photo: Flickr/ Wheat Genetics Lab

They found more than 100 repeatable –that is, statistically significant in multiple datasets — genome-wide markers associated with yellow rust that aligned to the reference genome of wheat.

 “These findings represent a significant advancement in our knowledge about the genetics of yellow rust resistance in bread wheat and provide exciting opportunities for designing future genomics-based breeding strategies for tackling yellow rust,” said CIMMYT wheat scientist Philomin Juliana, the lead author of the paper.

CIMMYT wheat scientists have been breeding for yellow rust resistance since the early 1970s. Breeding for resistance is a painstaking process involving crossing parents with slow rusting genes, selecting early-generation plants which exhibit resistance in Toluca, Mexico, and then subjecting the advanced generations to intense screening in sites like Karnal (in collaboration with the Indian Institute of Wheat and Barley Research) and Ludhiana (in collaboration with the Borlaug Institute for South Asia) in India; Njoro in Kenya; and Celaya (in collaboration with the Instituto Nacional de Investigaciones Forestales, Agricolas y Pecuarias), El Batan and Toluca in Mexico. Identifying genes related to resistance can increase the efficiency of this selection process, giving breeders a head start by allowing them to begin the crossing process with varieties that are more likely to have resistance genes.

In the study, the wheat scientists also conducted “allelic fingerprinting” on the largest panel of wheat breeding lines to date — 52,067 lines, genomically characterizing them for yellow rust resistance.  The resulting data creates opportunities using molecular markers to identify varieties with desired combinations of resistance genes.

“This information advances our knowledge on the genetics of yellow rust resistance in thousands of wheat lines, and has important implications for the future design of resistant crosses and varieties,” Juliana said.

Overall, the markers and fingerprints identified in this study are a valuable resource not only for CIMMYT breeders but also for the global wheat breeding community in its efforts to accelerate yellow rust resistance breeding.

This work was made possible by the generous support of the Delivering Genetic Gain in Wheat (DGGW) project funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and the UK  Department for International Development (DFID) and managed by Cornell University; the U.S. Agency for International Development’s Feed the Future Initiative; and the genotyping support of Dr. Jesse Poland from the innovation lab at Kansas State University.

Read the full article here:
https://doi.org/10.1038/s41598-020-67874-x

Juliana, P., Singh, R.P., Huerta-Espino, J. et al. 2020. “Genome-wide mapping and allelic fingerprinting provide insights into the genetics of resistance to wheat stripe rust in India, Kenya and Mexico.” Nature Scientific Reports.

Seed vaults, field experiments and being evacuated; a PhD adventure

This blog was originally posted on the website of the John Innes Centre.

Last month we were proud to announce that PhD student Anna Backhaus, was the recipient of a prestigious Women in Triticum (WIT) award.

Here, Anna reflects on the award and an interrupted but still memorable trip to Mexico – and offers some advice for colleagues.

“In March I departed Norwich Airport expecting to spend the next month in Mexico. I had sown all my seeds at the John Innes Centre, cleaned my desk and handed over my beloved houseplants to friends. As part of receiving this year’s Women in Triticum (WIT) award we were invited to visit the international centre for Maize and Wheat Improvement (CIMMYT) in Obregon Ciudad.

However, two weeks later I found myself living back home in my mother’s house, cooking wonky tortillas for dinner, a trip cut short by Covid-19. Despite the abrupt end of the trip, I’d had a wonderful journey.

The first days of the trip were spent in the CIMMYT headquarters, near Mexico City. Our group was Amor Yahyaoui, who was leading the training program and the other WIT awardees of 2019/20: Fiktre and Yewubdar from Ethiopia, Ritika from India, Valentina who just started her Post-doc in Canada and Dalma from Chile.

One of the highlights of the trip was that we spent so much time together as WITs and thus made great new friendships (possibly the slightly mad ending and evacuation out of Mexico also helped us to bond).

Upon our arrival, we immediately started with what we came for; the science, and joined the ongoing conference on insect pests.

We also got a tour of the centre’s facilities; my personal highlight was, of course, the cold vaults where the germplasm collection is stored. The vaults hold the seeds collected over many years in all regions of the world. The seeds and grains are valuable as they are used in today’s pre-breeding programs to introduce new genetic material and improve agronomic traits.

We got to see this pre-breeding material a few days later when we arrived in the field station 1,500 km north of Mexico City. In the field we talked with many CIMMYT scientists and got to see a snapshot of their work.

We also did some hands-on training, such as crossing wheat varieties, scoring of diseases or washing roots with high pressure hoses (for logging experiments). At the Obregon CIMMYT camp station we were also joined by another WIT awardee, Carolina, who works in the Physiology department of the centre.

I must say a huge thank you to everyone at CIMMYT, especially to Carolina and her colleagues from physiology as well as Karim Anmar, head of the Durum program, for making our two-week stay at CIMMYT so fantastic.

Most of the usual visitor’s program for WITs had been cancelled due to Covid-19 and much of our day-to-day program had to be improvised. They all made a huge effort and went out of their way to introduce us to CIMMYT, take us to the fields, explain their work to us and, of course, show us life in Obregon. I am looking forward to seeing them all again at future wheat(y) meetings.

The Women in Triticum is awarded yearly to early career scientists by the BGRI (Borlaug Global Rust Initiative) to continue the legacy of the pioneering agronomist Dr Norman Borlaug. The award is supported by Jeanie Borlaug, daughter of the Nobel peace prize laureate.

I think the award is so relevant as institutes, conferences, and especially (senior positions) around the globe are still male dominated. The opportunities, such as visiting CIMMYT and attending the bi-annual BGRI meeting, that come with the award are great opportunities and I would encourage everyone to apply (and not only once, some of us applied five or more times)”.

Anna’s PhD is funded by the John Innes Foundation. She is a second-year student supervised by Professor Cristobal Uauy and Professor Richard Morris.

An environmental look at WHEAT research

As we recognize the 50th year of Earth Day, the CGIAR Research Program on Wheat (WHEAT) looks back on recent impactful research to increase crop productivity while conserving natural resources.

WHEAT and its lead research partner, the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (CIMMYT), are proud of our research to move the needle on improving the environmental sustainability of farming and food production.

Plant resistance to insects

The 24th biannual session of the International Plant Resistance to Insects (IPRI) workshop, held at CIMMYT headquarters this year, featured innovative insect resistance solutions to the global threat of crop pests. Their goal: to reduce the use of pesticides.

Conservation agriculture

WHEAT and CIMMYT research has consistently shown the wide-ranging benefits of conservation agriculture practices such as zero tillage, crop rotation and soil cover – for crop performance, water use efficiency, farmer incomes and climate action. This research helps governments in South Asia — a global “hotspot” for climate vulnerability – develop policies to prioritize and encourage these techniques.

Appropriate fertilizer use

Research by WHEAT scientist Tek Sapkota has identified the optimum rates of nitrogen fertilizer application for rice and wheat in the Indo-Gangetic Plains of India — minimizing dangerous greenhouse gas emissions while maintaining crop productivity.

Reducing residue burning

A  study  by a global team including WHEAT scientist ML Jat shows that replacing rice residue burning with no-till farming practices raises farmers’ profits, cuts farm-related greenhouse gas emissions by as much as 78%, and lowers the choking air pollution that plagues the region each winter. These findings support Indian government policies including a US$166 million subsidy to promote mechanization such as the Happy Seeder.

Earth Day 1970 gave a voice to an emerging public consciousness about the state of our planet. With the same consciousness, we at WHEAT continue to work on research solutions to sustainably increase the production of nutritious wheat for improved livelihoods throughout the world.