Cornell receives UK support to aid scientists fighting threats to global wheat supply
By Linda McCandless/Cornell University
ITHACA, New York (January 25,2017)- Cornell University will receive $10.5 million in UK aid investment from the British people to help an international consortium of plant breeders, pathologists and surveillance experts overcome diseases hindering global food security efforts.
The funds for the four-year Delivering Genetic Gain in Wheat, or DGGW, project will build on a $24 million grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, announced in March 2016, and bring the total to $34.5 million.
“Wheat provides 20 percent of the calories and protein consumed by people globally, but borders in Africa, South Asia and the Middle East are porous when it comes to disease pathogens and environmental stressors like heat and drought that threaten the world’s wheat supply,” said Ronnie Coffman, international plant breeder and director of International Programs at Cornell University, who leads the global consortium.
“We are using the modern tools of comparative genomics and big data to develop new varieties of wheat for smallholder farmers that incorporate resilience to abiotic stresses and diseases such as rust and septoria,” he said.
The UK aid investment builds on the successes of the Borlaug Global Rust Initiative (BGRI) and the Durable Rust Resistance in Wheat (DRRW) project, funded jointly by the British people and the Gates Foundation from 2008 to 2016.
“Over the last nine years, we have built a global community of wheat scientists whose efforts have so far prevented the global epidemics of Ug99 stem rust anticipated by Dr. Norman Borlaug back in 2005,” said Coffman. “Working with national and international partners, we have delivered more than 65 varieties of wheat with improved resistance to rust and increased wheat yields globally.”
For many of the poorest people in Africa and southern Asia, wheat provides most of their food and is an important source of income.
“It’s these people who have benefitted the most from the DRRW and the BGRI’s successes developing new strains of wheat that are high yielding, rust resistant and nutritious,” said Coffman. “Smallholder farmers will benefit further under the DGGW.”