Hunger fighters “Take It to the Farmer” in June 25 virtual event from the Borlaug Global Rust Initiative

CGIAR Research Program on Wheat Director Hans Braun will join wheat experts from around the world to discuss evolving partnerships and ways to improve access to new technologies and improved wheat varieties in a virtual event convened by the Borlaug Global Rust Initiative (BGRI) next week.

The BGRI interactive virtual event “Take It to the Farmer: Reflections on Delivering Genetic Gain in Wheat” will take place on June 25 from 10-11:30 a.m. EDT.  The event will present a series of reflections on what it means to deliver genetic gain in wheat to farmers and ways to improve the future impact of wheat research.

Wheat researchers and farmers have made significant progress over the past 12 years delivering on the promise of greater food security and nutrition globally. But there is still much work to be done.

“Take It to the Farmer” is the second in a series of virtual events from the BGRI. The June 25 event will feature videos from wheat farmers in the United Kingdom, Kenya, Ethiopia, Nepal, India and Mexico as they discuss particular challenges they face in their countries, as well as discussions with leading wheat experts about the impact of the Durable Rust Resistance in Wheat (DRRW) and Delivering Genetic Gain in Wheat (DGGW) projects. Both projects received funding from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and the UK government.

“Over the last 12 years, wheat researchers have learned that it is not enough to have great research innovations and hope they make their way to farmers’ fields,” said Maricelis Acevedo, associate director for science for the DGGW project. “For agricultural innovations to make it the last mile into farmers’ fields, we have learned that is necessary to talk to the farmers, listen to the farmers, and work directly with the farmers. We are leveraging public-private partnerships, and tracking and exchanging germplasm across international boundaries in the ongoing fight to protect the world’s wheat.”

Bill Angus, principal of Angus Wheat Consultants Ltd and panelist in the June 25 event, said that collaboration is critical as the world engages with growing challenges to wheat production: “The UK is currently a yellow rust hotspot for evolving races of rust. With the BGRI, F1 Seed Ltd and CIMMYT, we are working to transfer resistance genes available in CIMMYT lines to UK germplasm and vice-versa. Our objective is to strengthen the wheat germplasm pool and optimize the use of resistance genes,” he said.

Angus added: “Researchers need a better understanding of what disease resistance genes we are using globally and then develop robust utilization strategies with seed companies to give wheat growers long-term security and options to combat ever-evolving races of rust. This is a great example of how public and private sectors can work together.”

Ronnie Coffman, BGRI vice-chair and director of International Programs in Cornell’s Department of Global Development, will provide the keynote address, “Impact of the Durable Rust Resistance in Wheat and Delivering Genetic Gain in Wheat Projects: 12 Years of Research and Variety Adoption.” Coffman is the Andrew H. and James S. Tisch Distinguished University Professor and international professor in the Department of Global Development and School of Integrative Plant Science.

Acevedo will host a panel discussion on evolving partnerships and ways to improve access to new technologies and improved wheat varieties. Panelists include:

  • Bill Angus, owner of Angus Wheat and international wheat consultant (Angus Wheat, UK)
  • Hans Braun, director of CIMMYT’s Global Wheat Program and the CGIAR Research Program on Wheat (CIMMYT, Mexico)
  • Anne Gichangi, senior research scientist and agricultural economist, Kenya Agricultural and Livestock Organizations (KALRO/Kenya)
  • Bedada Girma, technical coordinator, DGGW-Ethiopia, Ethiopian Institute for Agricultural Research (EIAR/Ethiopia)
  • Chhavi Tiwari, assistant professor at Shri Vaishnav Institute of Agriculture, Indore, India, and 2014 WIT awardee
  • Vijay Vijayaraghaven, chairman of Sathguru Management Consultants (Sathguru/India)

Registration information is available here. The event will be livestreamed on Zoom and the BGRI Facebook page.

Borlaug Global Rust Initiative launches first virtual workshop

2020 Women in Triticum Award Celebration virtual event. Graphic: BGRI

The BGRI will launch its 2020 series of Virtual Workshops with a 2020 Women in Triticum (WIT) Award Celebration called “The Changing Face of Leadership and Research in Wheat,” in an interactive webinar Thursday, May 21 from 10-11 a.m. EDT.

“Our new Virtual Workshops are an opportunity for the global wheat community to engage with speakers from around the world,” said Maricelis Acevedo, associate director for science of the Delivering Genetic Gain in Wheat (DGGW) project and faculty member in Cornell University’s Department of Global Development.

“In the time of COVID-19, we have to be creative and proactive. We are planning a series of virtual events as we continue our efforts to strengthen the world’s resilient to rust diseases,” she said.

The planned 2020 BGRI Technical Workshop in June in Norwich, UK was canceled due to the pandemic.

Acevedo invites everyone to join in the interactive Zoom webinar through the globalrust.org website, and/or watch the event live on Facebook at facebook.com/globalrust.

The 2020 WIT Early Career Awardees are Anna Backhaus (UK), Bharati Pandey (India), Yewubdar Ishetu Shewaye (Ethiopia), Paula Silva (Uruguay), and Peipeiu Zhang (China). The 2020 WIT Mentor is Evans Lagudah, from CSIRO, in Australia. Short videos about each winner’s work and their passion for wheat will be played during the celebration.

The hour-long event will also feature a keynote address by World Food Prize president Barbara Stinson on “The Importance of Gender in Assuring Global Food Security.”

Sarah Davidson Evanega, who initiated the WIT Award in 2010, will talk about “The History of the BGRI WIT Award.”

An interactive WIT Panel Discussion with four former WIT winners will be moderated by Hale Ann Tufan (2010), the 2019 winner of the Norman Borlaug Field Research and Application Award from the World Food Prize.  The panelists will discuss “The Future of Wheat Research: Aspirations and Visions.” The online audience can submit questions. Panelists include:

  • Sandra Dunckel (2013), from KWS UK Ltd.
  • Sarah Battenfield (2014), from Syngenta in the U.S.
  • Mercy Wamalwa (2016), from Egerton University in Kenya
  • Sarrah Ben M’Barek-Ben Romdhane (2017), from the Regional Field Crops Research Center of Béja, in Tunisia

More details are available on the BGRI website.

Combating wheat blast in Bangladesh and beyond

Researchers trained as part of global response to the threat of wheat blast.

The Bangladesh Wheat and Maize Research Institute (BWMRI), in collaboration with the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (CIMMYT), recently trained 25 scientists from Bangladesh, India, Nepal, Zambia and Afghanistan on germplasm screening and field surveillance of wheat blast.

The training course took place on March 1-10 at Bangladesh’s Regional Agricultural Research Station in Jashore.

Wheat blast, a fearsome fungal disease first reported in Bangladesh in 2016, is a huge threat to food safety and security in South America and South Asia. Directly striking the wheat spike, wheat blast can shrivel and deform the grain in less than a week from the first symptoms, leaving farmers no time to act.

To mitigate the threat of wheat blast, a Precision Phenotyping Platform (PPP) was established in Jashore in 2018 to screen wheat germplasm for the disease. The platform has been a reliable source of screening for wheat lines around the world and has proven a great success towards taming the wheat blast disease. Currently around 5,000 wheat lines from Bangladesh, China, India, Japan, Mexico, Nepal and Pakistan, are being tested under natural and artificial inoculated conditions.

Participants of the training course gained hands-on experience in disease scoring and evaluation at the facility. Field visits were also arranged to nearby wheat blast hotspots, including wheat blast affected fields in Meherpur, to see how resistant and susceptible cultivars perform under natural epidemic conditions.

“Bangladesh is our neighboring country and wheat blast is a very concerning issue for us. I am very lucky that I have been nominated for this training. Now I am very clear about wheat blast symptoms as well as other confounding diseases in the field,” said Dr. Deepshikha, a wheat pathologist from Govind Ballabh Pant University of Agriculture and Technology (GBPUA&T), Pantnagar, India during the field visit in Meherpur.

Participants also visited Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman Agricultural University (BSMRAU), in Gazipur where Dr. Tofazzal Islam, Department of Biotechnology Professor, is leading independent wheat blast research activities including mutation breeding and the use of nano technology and probiotic bacteria in controlling wheat blast.

Since day one, the Government of Bangladesh has been very proactive in combatting wheat blast. Government initiatives include declaring “wheat holidays”—or temporarily banning cultivation in target areas — building awareness, collaborating with international donors and research organizations, and fast tracking the release of resistant varieties.

Despite the progress made in wheat blast monitoring research, scientists are still struggling to figure out the right epidemiological criteria for managing this disease. While disease pressure in Bangladesh has been low in the last three years, wheat blast has been observed in newer districts, signifying the expansion of the pathogen in the country.

Participants at this year’s wheat blast training course. Photo: Md. Babul Anwar, BWMRI

The knowledge gained in the training course will allow participants to refine blast research in their respective countries. They will also be able to raise awareness back home concerning the threat of blast and alert farmers based on the experience Bangladesh has adopted in the last four years. 

The training was made possible by support from investors including the Australian Centre for International Agriculture Research (ACIAR), the CGIAR Research Program on WHEAT (CRP WHEAT), the Indian Council of Agricultural Research (ICAR), Krishi Gobeshona Foundation (KGF), the Swedish Research Council (SRC) and the United States Agency for International Development (USAID).

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.

The value of research on plant resistance to insects

This article and video were originally published on the CIMMYT website.

Crop pest outbreaks are a serious threat to food security worldwide. Swarms of locusts continue to form in the Horn of Africa, threatening food security and farmer livelihoods ahead of a new cropping season. The devastating fall armyworm continues cause extensive damage in Africa and South Asia.

With almost 40% of food crops lost annually due to pests and diseases, plants resistance to insects is more important than ever. Last month, a group of wheat breeders and entomologists came together for the 2

4th Biannual International Plant Resistance to Insects (IPRI) Workshop, held at the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (CIMMYT) global headquarters outside Mexico City.

Watch Mike Smith, entomologist and distinguished professor emeritus at Kansas State University explain the importance of working with economists to document the value of plant insect resistance research, and why communication is crucial for raising awareness of the threat of crop pests and insect resistance solutions.

Related stories:

Insect resistance workshop focuses on legacy, importance of collaboration

Community celebrates nearly 50 years of achievements; highlights ways to meet future challenges

Workshop participants pose in front of CIMMYT Headquarters in Texcoco, Mexico. Photo: Alfonso Cortes/CIMMYT

It was 1974.  In the United States, the environmental movement was in full swing, with the first celebration of Earth Day, the establishment of the Environmental Protection Agency, and the publication of Rachel Carson’s revolutionary book, Silent Spring. Around the world, the public was gaining awareness of the danger of overuse of pesticides, as a small group of crop breeders and entomologists decided to get together in what would become the first International Plant Resistance to Insects (IPRI) workshop.

Today, the need for insect resistance is even greater. The UN, which has named 2020 as the International Year of Plant Health, estimates that almost 40% of food crops are lost annually due to plant pests and diseases. The losses due to insects total up to $1billion a year for wheat alone.  Climate change is another factor affecting the population and geographical distribution of pests.

Last week, the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (CIMMYT) hosted IPRI’s 24th biannual session, convening entomologists, pathologists, breeders and nematologists to validate past work and highlight innovative solutions.  To name a few:

  • South Africa’s Agricultural Research Council has developed 43 new cultivars of wheat that are resistant to Russian Wheat Aphid.
  • CIMMYT precision scientists are using high-tech cameras on drones or planes to measure individual plants for signs of biotic stress, to allow farmers advance notice of infestation.
  • North Dakota State University’s mapping of the Hessian Fly H26 gene has revealed two clear phenotypic responses to Hessian fly attacks, bringing breeders a step closer towards developing resistant wheat varieties.
  • CIMMYT-designed Integrated Pest Management (IPM) packages are helping farmers from a wide range of socio-economic backgrounds and cropping systems effectively fight the devastating maize pest fall armyworm through a combination of best management practices.

A recurring theme was the importance of collaboration between entomologists and breeders to ensure breakthroughs in resistance genes are taken up to develop new varieties that reach farmers.

“There is a disconnect between screening and breeding,” CIMMYT Global Wheat Program Director Hans Braun told attendees.  “We need more and better collaboration between disciplines, to move from screening to breeding faster.”

Communicating to farmers is crucial. Pesticides are expensive, harmful to both human health and the environment, and can lead to crop resistance.  However, they can appear to be the quick and easy solution. “IPM also means ‘integrating people’s mindsets,’” said B.M. Prasanna, director of CIMMYT’s Global Maize Program.

B. M. Prasanna describes the Integrated Pest Management toolbox of solutions for fall armyworm. Photo: Alfonso Cortes/CIMMYT.

National policies instituting strict quarantines pose another serious barrier to the exchange of seeds required for testing and research.

To mark the workshop’s 24th anniversary, Michael Smith, entomologist at Kansas State University and longtime IPRI participant, offered a brief history of the event and the field—from the first insect-resistant wheat developed in the early 1920s to the wake-up call of pesticide abuse in the 1960s.

Michael Smith, Kansas State University, U.S.

“We’ve grown, we’ve made enormous technological changes, but ‘talking to people’ is still what we’re here for,” he stated. He added a challenge for his colleagues:  “We need to tell a better story of the economic benefits of our science. We need to get to the table in an even more assertive way.”

He also shared some lighter memories, such as the sight of imminent plant scientists relaxing in leisure suits at the 1978 session. A traditional mariachi serenade and traditional Mexican cuisine ensured that more memories were made in 2020.

Leonardo Crespo-Herrera, CIMMYT wheat breeder and workshop moderator closed with encouraging and provocative words for the group.

 “The ultimate objective is to reduce the use of pesticides,” he said, adding: “How do we get this research out of the lab and into the field?”

Leonardo Crespo, CIMMYT wheat breeder and workshop moderator. Photo: Alfonso Cortes/CIMMYT.
Workshop participants toured CIMMYT’s Germplasm Bank. Photo: Alfonso Cortes/CIMMYT.
CIMMYT Global Maize Director B.M. Prasanna and CIMMYT Global Wheat Director Hans Braun. Photo: Alfonso Cortes/CIMMYT
The workshop also included a demonstration by CIMMYT Wheat Chemistry, Quality and Nutrition Laboratory Head Maria Itria Ibba. Photo: Alfonso Cortes/CIMMYT.

First cohort of Arab Women Leaders in Agriculture graduates

This press release was originally posted on the website of the International Center for Biosaline Agriculture (ICBA)

  The CGIAR Research Program on Wheat joined the International Center for Biosaline Agriculture for the graduation of the first cohort of fellows of the Arab Women Leaders in Agriculture (AWLA) program.

In celebration of International Women’s Day the International Center for Biosaline Agriculture (ICBA) hosted today a graduation ceremony for the first cohort of fellows of the Arab Women Leaders in Agriculture (AWLA) program.

Funded by the Islamic Development Bank (IsDB), the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and CGIAR Research Program on Wheat, AWLA supports women scientists from the Middle East and North Africa.

Being the first of its kind, the program is managed by ICBA and is designed to empower women researchers to spearhead positive changes in agriculture and food security while addressing the challenges they face in their careers.

The first cohort included 22 women scientists from Algeria, Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon, Morocco, and Tunisia. They completed a 10-month program from 2019 to 2020, which was delivered through 12 online R&D modules and face-to-face workshops in Tunisia and the UAE.

Her Excellency Razan Khalifa Al Mubarak, Managing Director of the Environment Agency – Abu Dhabi (EAD) and Chairperson of ICBA’s Board of Directors. Photo: ICBA

Speaking at the graduation ceremony, Her Excellency Razan Khalifa Al Mubarak, Managing Director of the Environment Agency – Abu Dhabi (EAD) and Chairperson of ICBA’s Board of Directors, said: “International Women’s Day is an important occasion when we celebrate women and girls around the world and showcase their invaluable contributions to different fields, including science. Unfortunately, women are still underrepresented in research and development around the world, but more so in the Middle East and North Africa. This is despite research showing that gender-balanced teams improve innovation and productivity and that women are critical to innovation. That is why it is great to see how programs like AWLA are creating opportunities for women scientists from across the Middle East and North Africa and equipping them with skills and tools to grow in their careers and make greater contributions in their communities and countries.”

For her part, Dr. Ismahane Elouafi, Director General of ICBA, said: “We are delighted to see the inaugural cohort of AWLA fellows graduating on such a special occasion – International Women’s Day. The AWLA fellowship program was able to open a door of opportunities for 22 Arab women scientists by providing them with soft skills to positively impact their communities and countries.”

Dr. Ismahane Elouafi, Director General of the International Center for Biosaline Agriculture (ICBA). Photo: ICBA

“I want to thank the Islamic Development Bank, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the CGIAR Research Program on Wheat, and the International Atomic Energy Agency, for their exceptional support for the program. I would also like to thank the Council for Australian-Arab Relations for supporting the study tour of two AWLA fellows,” Dr. Ismahane Elouafi added.

Dr. Tarifa Alzaabi, Deputy Director General of ICBA, remarked: “As we are celebrating International Women’s Day, it gives me a great pleasure to congratulate all AWLA fellows and commend them for the exceptional dedication they demonstrated during their AWLA journey. AWLA is a unique program that significantly contributed to our efforts to empower women in science and agriculture. AWLA extends the right skills and opportunities to fellows to boost their intellectual collaboration by exchanging ideas, good practices, and stories on how women can make a difference in agriculture. Moreover, the program offers new perspectives on research and leadership to make a positive difference not only in the professional lives of fellows but also towards the prosperity of agriculture across the nations and regions they represent.”

Cake-cutting at the graduation ceremony. Photo: ICBA

Ms. May Ali Babiker Eltahir, Manager at the Women and Youth Empowerment Division, the Islamic Development Bank, commented: “AWLA, through empowering young Arab women working on food, nutrition and water security issues, has contributed to the pillars of the IsDB Women’s Empowerment Policy, namely improving women’s access to services and resources and promoting women’s agency and participation.”

Mr. Hassan Damluji, Deputy Director at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, said: “Empowering women to take up leadership positions in all fields, particularly critical sectors like agriculture and science, is an essential lever towards achieving gender equality globally. AWLA is a wonderful example of partners coming together to deliver concrete solutions that help break down barriers for Arab women researchers”.

“Women make up an important part of the agricultural labor force in MENA, and any solution to the region’s critical food security challenges should ideally be evidence-based and innovative, making use of all talent by being gender-inclusive and by greatly improving cross-border collaboration,” said Mr. Victor Kommerell, Program Manager for the CGIAR Research Program on Wheat (CIMMYTICARDA, and partners). 

“I am confident this cohort of AWLA graduates from 6 countries will have a powerful impact on the future of agriculture in the region,” Mr. Victor Kommerell added.

Dr. Farah Baroudy Mikati, an AWLA fellow from Lebanon, who works as an agricultural engineer at the Lebanese Agricultural Research Institute, said: “The spirit of AWLA reminded me about my ambitions and strength, especially after seeing that things like research for impact exist and can succeed. Before AWLA, I used to give less importance to some managerial knowledge, but now I consider it as a priority. In addition, I started learning project proposal writing skills through this program. In general, AWLA made me aim for more even in harsh conditions!”

“During the program, the fellows got the opportunity to learn through interactive online and classroom training, coaching and mentoring, and continuous assessment. The fellows worked on a variety of individual assignments in addition to four team-based capstone projects that connect and translate their learning and impact as the golden thread,” Mr. Ghazi Jawad Al-Jabri, Capacity Building Specialist at ICBA and AWLA Coordinator, said.

AWLA’s long-term goal is to improve food security and nutrition in the region through empowering women researchers and helping them realize their full potential. The program contributes to the achievement of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals on Gender Equality (SDG 5), Climate Action (SDG 13), Life on Land (SDG 15), and Partnerships for the Goals (SDG 17).

a wheat-themed place setting at the AWLA graduation ceremony. Photo: Victor Kommerell/CIMMYT

Q&A: Wheat breeding experts help CIMMYT reach ambitious improvement goals

“This will make us one of the world’s best breeding programs,” says visiting scientist

Wheat seeds shoot out of harvester at CIMMYT’s Centro Experimental Norman E. Borlaug in Obregon, Mexico. Photo: Peter Lowe/CIMMYT

A select group of plant breeders, quantitative geneticists, pathologists, statisticians, mathematicians, and other scientific and technical experts from the public and private wheat breeding sectors spent three days at the headquarters of the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (CIMMYT) last week debating ways to improve CIMMYT’s wheat breeding program.

The group, who traveled from as far as away as Canada, India and China, challenged each other to come up with a set of recommendations to move CIMMYT’s wheat breeding program to two ambitious goals: to increase the rate of genetic gain in wheat yields and to mainstream high zinc levels into all new improved wheat lines.

We caught up with a few of these visiting scientists to understand why they came and how they saw their role in this renewed push for food security through wheat research.

Gary Atlin, Senior Program Officer, Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation

Q: There is a sense of urgency in this meeting. Why is it important to raise genetic gain – and nutrition — in wheat now?

A: The urgency is generally around increasing the effectiveness of breeding in the face of climate change and intensifying cropping systems in the target countries that we serve.  There is also an increasing recognition that micronutrient deficiencies are a major health problem in many areas where a lot of protein and calories come from wheat.

Donors are looking at breeding investments and realizing that although programs like CIMMYT are extremely effective they could probably be more efficient and effective.

It’s an ambitious goal: to increase the rate of genetic gain — and move the needle on zinc — within the context of an agronomic breeding program that’s already very effective. This will make us one of the world’s best breeding programs.

Q: Do we have what it takes?

A: Absolutely. The engine already works very well. But there are lots of new tools, new ways of organizing breeding being tried out in the public and private sectors that we can use. CIMMYT has an excellent skill set here and very experienced people. It’s all there — but it’s a complex problem.

Q: How do you see the role of wheat research in the move to transform the many CGIAR centers into OneCGIAR?

A: Well, along with rice, wheat is among the top two in terms of area and contribution to total calories worldwide. So OneCGIAR will have a wheat research program as the core of its wheat offering. One CGIAR will hopefully do away with dysfunctional separations and boundaries between programs so it should be easier and we won’t have to duplicate programmatic leadership and administrative structures.

Wheat will be just as important. The idea of OneCGIAR is to provide a better platform for the research programs. I’m very optimistic that it’s going to help.

Valentin Wimmer, Head of Cereals Breeding Technologies, KWS SAAT SE & Co. KGaA, Germany

Q: Why did you decide to come help CIMMYT’s wheat breeding program?

A: I would have regretted it if I hadn’t come. The exchange, the process of disclosing a program, having an in-depth discussion and coming up with a proposal  — that is something that rarely happens.

I was also interested because I thought I could also learn. There are many other smart people here. It’s a give and take.

Q: What is your reaction to CIMMYT’s wheat breeding plan? Do you think we can do it?

A: I think it’s very ambitious but I was positively surprised by the output.  Given the limited amount of time, we really made good progress.

Q: How do you see your role in this consultation and in the future with this effort?

A:  My background is in breeding technologies, statistical modeling and simulation and breeding scheme modeling—all areas of discussion here.  I also have expertise in a corporate environment – so I can provide input on logistics and time constraints.

 I will be available to offer additional feedback and answer questions – or if the program wants to send someone to us for training- I could imagine that, too.

Curtis Pozniak, Professor and Ministry of Agriculture Strategic Research Program Chair in Durum and High-Yield Wheat Breeding and Genetics, University of Saskatchewan, Canada

Q: How has your experience been at this workshop?

A:  I work closely with the CIMMYT wheat breeders in exchanging germplasm, particularly on the durum wheat side.  To be able to visit CIMMYT and help move the program forward was quite an honor for me, particularly given the excellent relationships I’ve had with CIMMYT scientists. It’s been a fantastic experience.

Q: How do you see your role as a research partner and your involvement as this effort moves forward?

A: It’s clear that CIMMYT has extensive breeding capability capacity, structure, people, and know-how. They’re doing an excellent job. Our role at this workshop is to review how decisions are made and think about how CIMMYT wheat programs  apply new technologies to improve the rate of genetic gain in wheat. It is nice to see that the program is starting to embrace a data driven selection system.

One of the things we were talking about here is the importance of germplasm exchange, and how to fit that into not only the CIMMYT program but the international programs both in developed and developing countries.   I use CIMMYT germplasm in my own crossing program, and we exchange genetic mapping populations and genotypic information amongst our programs to make better sense of the data in the context of our own germplasm, relative to our specific environments. I am happy to give back.

Kudos to CIMMYT for reaching out and really doing an excellent job presenting their program and asking a whole range of experts to provide feedback on their wheat program and listen to our collective experiences on how we might improve not only the breeding program at CIMMYT, but national programs as well.  I don’t see this as a “one-off” but the first step to building a much stronger relationship, and something that will continue.

 “Change can be painful and can take us out of our comfort zone,” said CIMMYT Director of Genetic Resources Kevin Pixley, who co-moderated the workshop, “but a constant pursuit of improvement is what differentiates exceptional from good, and the challenges facing wheat farmers in coming decades will require the best that science can offer.”

Wrapping up the technical expert meeting, Gary Atlin put these efforts into perspective. “Genetic gains mean income for farmers,” he reminded the group. “That’s what drives me, and I know that’s what drives you too.”


CIMMYT scientists join fellow experts in San Diego for world’s largest plant and animal genomics conference

CIMMYT Principal Scientist Sarah Hearne presenting at this week’s PAG conference. Photo: CIMMYT

A number of scientists from the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (CIMMYT) presented this week at the International Plant and Animal Genome Conference (PAG) in San Diego, USA.

PAG is the largest agricultural genomics meeting in the world, bringing together over 3,000 leading genetic scientists and researchers from around the world to present their research and share the latest developments in plant and animal genome projects. It provides an important opportunity for CIMMYT scientists to highlight their work translating the latest molecular research developments into wheat and maize breeding solutions for better varieties. 

To meet global food demand by 2050, agricultural production must increase by 60% – while at the same time minimizing harm to the environment. This is the process of sustainable intensification, recommended by world organizations like the United Nations and the EAT Lancet Commission as a key strategy for transforming our struggling global food system.

Genomics is crucial to sustainable intensification. By studying a plant or animal’s genetic architecture, researchers can better understand what drives crop or livestock productivity, quality, climate-resilience and resistance to pests and diseases. With this information scientists can speed up efforts to develop better varieties and stay ahead of climate- and disease- related threats.

  • Wheat Scientist Philomin Juliana shared her findings on successfully identifying significant new chromosomal regions for wheat yield and disease resistance using the full wheat genome map. Juliana and her colleagues have created a freely-available collection of genetic information and markers for more than 40,000 wheat lines which will accelerate efforts to breed superior wheat varieties. She also discussed the value of genomic and high-throughput phenotyping tools for current breeding strategies adopted by CIMMYT to develop climate resilient wheat.  
Wheat Scientist Philomin Juliana at this week’s PAG conference. Photo: CIMMYT
  • Principal Scientist Sarah Hearne discussed the smarter exploration of germplasm banks for breeding. Genebanks are reserves of native plant variation representing the evolutionary history of the crops we eat. They are a vital source of genetic information, which can accelerate the development of better, more resilient crops. However, it is not easy for breeders and scientists to identify or access the genetic information they need. Using the whole genebank genotypic data, long-term climate data from the origins of the genebank seeds and novel analysis methods, Hearne and her colleagues were able to identify elite genetic breeding material for improved, climate resilient maize varieties. They are now extending this approach to test the value of these data to improve breeding programs and accelerate the development of improved crops.
Sarah Hearne presents on the smart use of genebanks to accelerate the development of better wheat and maize varieties. Photo: Francisco Gomez
  • Distinguished Scientist Jose Crossa discussed the latest models and methods for combining phenomic and genomic information to accelerate the development of climate-resilient crop varieties. He highlighted the use of the Artificial Neural Network — a model inspired by the human brain — to model the relationship between input signals and output signals in crops. He also discussed a phenotypic and genomic selection index which can improve response to selection and expected genetic gains for all of an individual plant’s genetic traits simultaneously.
CIMMYT Distinguished Scientist Jose Crossa presenting at this week’s PAG conference. Photo: Sarah Hearne/CIMMYT
  • Genomic Breeder Umesh Rosyara demonstrated the Genomic selection pipeline and other tools at a workshop on the genomic data management and marker application tool Galaxy. The software, developed by the Excellence in Breeding (EiB) platform, integrates a suite of bioinformatics analysis tools, R-packages – a free software environment for statistical computing and graphics –  and visualization tools to manage routine genomic selection (GS) and genome wide association studies (GWAS) analysis. This allows crop breeders and genomic scientists without a programming background to conduct these analyses and create crop-specific workflows.

“PAG is currently the main international meeting touching both crop and livestock genomics, so it’s an invaluable chance to connect and share insights with research and breeding colleagues around the world,” said Hearne. 

“It’s also an important forum to highlight how we are linking upstream and field, and help others do the same.”

New international partnership to identify and develop resistance to dangerous wheat disease

China-based CIMMYT-JAAS screening station aims for global impact in the fight against deadly Fusarium head blight

Photo: JAAS

The CGIAR Research Program on Wheat (WHEAT), led by the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (CIMMYT) and the International Center for Agriculture in the Dry Areas (ICARDA), have announced a partnership with the Jiangsu Academy of Agricultural Sciences (JAAS) in China to open a new screening facility for the deadly and fast-spreading fungal wheat disease Fusarium head blight (FHB).

The new facility, based near JAAS headquarters in Nanjing, aims to capitalize on CIMMYT’s world-class collection of disease-resistant wheat materials and the diversity of the more than 150,000 wheat germplasm in its Wheat Germplasm Bank to identify and characterize genetics of sources of resistance to FHB and, ultimately, develop new, FHB-resistant wheat varieties that can be sown in vulnerable areas around the world.

“The participation of JAAS in the global FHB breeding network will significantly contribute to the development of elite germplasm with good FHB resistance,” said Pawan Singh, head of wheat pathology for CIMMYT.

“We expect that in 5 to 7 years, promising lines with FHB resistance will be available for deployment by both CIMMYT and China to vulnerable farmers, thanks to this new station.”

Fusariumhead blight is one of the most dangerous wheat diseases.  It can cause up to 50% yield loss, and produce severe mycotoxin contamination in food and feed – with impacts including increased health care and veterinary care costs, and reduced livestock production. 

Even consuming low to moderate amounts of Fusarium mycotoxins may impair intestinal health, immune function and/or fitness. Deoxynivalenol (DON), a mycotoxin the fungus inducing FHB produces, has been linked to symptoms including nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea. In livestock, Fusarium mycotoxin consumption exacerbates infections with parasites, bacteria and viruses  — such as occidiosis in poultry, salmonellosis in pigs and mice, colibacillosis in pigs, necrotic enteritis in poultry and swine respiratory disease.

In China, the world’s largest wheat producer, FHB is the most important biotic constraint to production.

The disease is extending quickly beyond its traditionally vulnerable wheat growing areas in East Asia, North America, the southern cone of South America, Europe and South Africa —  partly as a result of global warming, and partly due to otherwise beneficial, soil-conserving farming practices such as wheat-maize rotation and reduced tillage.

“Through CIMMYT’s connections with national agricultural research systems in developing countries, we can create a global impact for JAAS research, reaching the countries that are expected to be affected the expansion of FHB epidemic area,” said Xu Zhang, head of Triticeae crops research group at the Institute of Food Crops of the Jiangsu Academy of Agricultural Sciences.

The new collaborative effort will target FHB research initially but could potentially expand to research on other wheat diseases as well. Wheat blast, for example, is a devastating disease that spread from South America to Bangladesh in 2016. Considering the geographical closeness of Bangladesh and China, a collaboration with CIMMYT, as one of the leading institutes working on wheat blast, could have a strong impact.

Although the platform is new, the two institutions have a longstanding relationship.  The bilateral collaboration between JAAS and CIMMYT began in early 1980s with a shuttle breeding program between China and Mexico to speed up breeding for FHB resistance. The two institutions also conducted extensive germplasm exchanges in the 1980s and 1990s, which helped CIMMYT improve resistance to FHB, and helped JAAS improve wheat rust resistance.

Currently, JAAS and CIMMYT are working on FHB under a project funded by the National Natural Science Foundation China called “Elite and Durable Resistance to Wheat Fusarium Head Blight” that aims to deploy FHB resistance genes/QTL in Chinese and CIMMYT germplasm and for use in wheat breeding.

INTERVIEW OPPORTUNITIES:

Xinyao He, Wheat Pathologist and Geneticist, Global Wheat Program, CIMMYT. x.he@cgiar.org, +52 (55) 5804 2004 ext. 2218

FOR MORE INFORMATION, CONTACT THE MEDIA TEAM:

Geneviève Renard, Head of Communications, CIMMYT. g.renard@cgiar.org, +52 (55) 5804 2004 ext. 2019.

Rodrigo Ordóñez, Communications Manager, CIMMYT. r.ordonez@cgiar.org, +52 (55) 5804 2004 ext. 1167.

ABOUT CGIAR RESEARCH PROGRAM ON WHEAT:
The CGIAR Research Program on Wheat (WHEAT) is led by the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (CIMMYT), with the International Center for Agricultural Research in the Dry Areas (ICARDA) as a primary research partner. Funding comes from CGIAR, national governments, foundations, development banks and other agencies, including the Australian Centre for International Agricultural Research (ACIAR),  the UK Department for International Development (DFID) and the United States Agency for International Development (USAID).

ABOUT CIMMYT:
The International Maize and Wheat 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 Research 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.

ABOUT Jiangsu Academy of Agricultural Sciences (JAAS):

Jiangsu Academy of Agricultural Sciences (JAAS), a comprehensive agricultural research institution since 1931, strives to make agriculture more productive and sustainable through technology innovation. JAAS endeavors to carry out the Plan for Rural Vitalization Strategy and our innovation serves agriculture, farmers and the rural areas. JAAS provide more than 80% of new varieties, products and techniques in Jiangsu Province, teach farmers not only to increase yield and quality, but also to challenge conventional practices in pursuit of original ideas in agro-environment protection. For more information, visit home.jaas.ac.cn/.

This research is supported by CGIAR Fund Donors.