Posts Tagged ‘speed breeding’

Historic wheat research station poised to host cutting-edge research

This story by Alison Doody was originally published on the CIMMYT website.

Early photo of Toluca station. (Photo: Fernando Delgado/CIMMYT)

It was the site where International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (CIMMYT) scientist Norman Borlaug famously received news of his 1970 Nobel Peace Prize win. Now, Toluca station will become CIMMYT’s new testing site for rapid generation advancement and speed breeding in wheat – a method that accelerates generation advancement of crops and shortens the breeding cycle using tools like continuous lighting and temperature control.

The Toluca wheat experimental station is one of CIMMYT’s five experimental stations in Mexico, located in a picturesque town on the outskirts of Mexico’s fifth largest city, Toluca, about 60 kilometers southwest of Mexico City. The station was strategically chosen for its cool, humid conditions in summer. These conditions have made it an ideal location for studying wheat resistance to deadly diseases including yellow rust and Septoria tritici blotch.

Since its formal establishment in 1970, Toluca has played a key role in CIMMYT’s wheat breeding program. The site is also of significant historical importance due to its origins as a testing ground for Borlaug’s shuttle breeding concept in the 1940s, along with Ciudad Obregón in the Sonora state of northern Mexico. The breeding method allowed breeders to plant at two locations to advance generations and half the breeding cycle of crops.

Applying this unorthodox breeding method, Borlaug was able to advance wheat generations twice as fast as standard breeding programs. Planting in contrasting environments and day lengths — from the cool temperatures and high rainfall of Toluca to the desert heat of Ciudad Obregón — also allowed Borlaug and his colleagues to develop varieties that were more broadly adaptable to a variety of conditions. His shuttle breeding program was so successful that it provided the foundations of the Green Revolution.

Toluca was also the site where the first sexual propagation of the destructive plant pathogen Phytophtora infestans was reported. The deadly pathogen is best known for causing the potato late blight disease that triggered the Irish potato famine.

Recent progress of the rapid generation advancement screenhouse under construction at Toluca station. (Photo: Suchismita Modal/CIMMYT)

New life for the historic station

More than 50 years since its establishment, the station will once again host cutting-edge innovation in wheat research, as the testing ground for a new speed breeding program led by wheat scientists and breeders from Accelerating Genetic Gains in Maize and Wheat (AGG).

Funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the UK Department for International Development (DFID), the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) and the Foundation for Food and Agriculture Research (FFAR), AGG aims to accelerate the development and delivery of more productive, climate-resilient, gender-responsive, market-demanded, and nutritious maize and wheat varieties.

While most breeding programs typically take between 7-8 years before plants are ready for yield testing, shuttle breeding has allowed CIMMYT to cut the length of its breeding programs in half, to just 4 years to yield testing. Now, AGG wheat breeders are looking to shorten the breeding cycle further, through rapid generation advancement and speed breeding.

Speed breeding room at Toluca station. The Heliospectra lights support the faster growth of plants. (Photo: Suchismita Mondal/CIMMYT)

“The AGG team will use a low-cost operation, in-field screenhouse, spanning 2 hectares, to grow up to 4 generations of wheat per year and develop new germplasm ready for yield testing within just 2 years,” said Ravi Singh, CIMMYT distinguished scientist and head of wheat improvement. “This should not only save on cost but also help accelerate the genetic gain due to a significant reduction in time required to recycle best parents.”

Construction of the new rapid generation advancement and speed breeding facilities is made possible by support from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and DFID through Delivering Genetic Gain in Wheat (DGGW), a 4-year project led by Cornell University, which ends this year. It is expected to be complete by September.

The concept of speed breeding is not new. Inspired by NASA’s efforts to grow crops in space, scientists at the University of Sydney, the University of Queensland (UQ) and the John Innes Centre developed the technique to accelerate the development of crops and improve their quality. The breeding method has been successfully used for crops like spring wheat, barley, pea, chickpea, radish and canola.

CIMMYT Global Wheat Program Director Hans Braun highlighted the importance of testing the new breeding scheme. “Before completely adopting the new breeding scheme, we need to learn, optimize and analyze the performance results to make necessary changes,” he said.

If all goes well, Toluca could once again be on the vanguard of wheat research in the near future.

“We plan to use the speed breeding facility for rapid integration of traits, such as multiple genes for resistance, to newly-released or soon to be released varieties and elite breeding lines,” said CIMMYT Wheat Breeder Suchismita Mondal, who will lead the work in these facilities. We are excited to initiate using the new facilities.”

Rapid generation advancement screenhouse under construction at Toluca station in October 2019. (Photo: Alison Doody/CIMMYT)

“Better, faster, equitable, sustainable” – wheat research community partners join to kick off new breeding project

This story by Marcia MacNeil was originally published on the CIMMYT website.

More than 100 scientists, crop breeders, researchers, and representatives from funding and national government agencies gathered virtually to initiate the wheat component of a groundbreaking and ambitious collaborative new crop breeding project led by the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (CIMMYT).

The new project, Accelerating Genetic Gains in Maize and Wheat for Improved Livelihoods, or AGG, brings together partners in the global science community and in national agricultural research and extension systems to accelerate the development of higher-yielding varieties of maize and wheat — two of the world’s most important staple crops.

Funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the U.K. Department for International Development (DFID) and the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), the project specifically focuses on supporting smallholder farmers in low- and middle-income countries. The international team uses innovative methods — such as rapid cycling and molecular breeding approaches — that improve breeding efficiency and precision to produce varieties that are climate-resilient, pest and disease resistant and highly nutritious, targeted to farmers’ specific needs.

The wheat component of AGG builds on breeding and variety adoption work that has its roots with Norman Borlaug’s Nobel Prize winning work developing high yielding and disease resistance dwarf wheat more than 50 years ago. Most recently, AGG builds on Delivering Genetic Gain in Wheat (DGGW), a 4-year project led by Cornell University, which ends this year.

“AGG challenges us to build on this foundation and make it better, faster, equitable and sustainable,” said CIMMYT Interim Deputy Director for Research Kevin Pixley.

At the virtual gathering on July 17, donors and partner representatives from target countries in South Asia joined CIMMYT scientists to describe both the technical objectives of the project and its overall significance.

“This program is probably the world’s single most impactful plant breeding program. Its products are used throughout the world on many millions of hectares,” said Gary Atlin from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. “The AGG project moves this work even farther, with an emphasis on constant technological improvement and an explicit focus on improved capacity and poverty alleviation.”

Alan Tollervey from DFID spoke about the significance of the project in demonstrating the relevance and impact of wheat research.

“The AGG project helps build a case for funding wheat research based on wheat’s future,” he said.

Nora Lapitan from the USAID Bureau for Resilience and Food Security listed the high expectations AGG brings: increased genetic gains, variety replacement, optimal breeding approaches, and strong collaboration with national agricultural research systems in partner countries.

Reconnecting with trusted partners

The virtual meeting allowed agricultural scientists and wheat breeding experts from AGG target countries in South Asia, many of whom have been working collaboratively with CIMMYT for years, to reconnect and learn how the AGG project both challenges them to a new level of collaboration and supports their national wheat production ambitions.

“With wheat blast and wheat rust problems evolving in Bangladesh, we welcome the partnership with international partners, especially CIMMYT and the funders to help us overcome these challenges,” said Director General of the Bangladesh Wheat and Maize Research Institute Md. Israil Hossain.

Director of the Indian Institute for Wheat and Barley Research Gyanendra P. Singh praised CIMMYT’s role in developing better wheat varieties for farmers in India.

“Most of the recent varieties which have been developed and released by India are recommended for cultivation on over 20 million hectares. They are not only stress tolerant and high yielding but also fortified with nutritional qualities. I appreciate CIMMYT’s support on this,” he said.

Executive Director of the National Agricultural Research Council of Nepal Deepak K. Bhandari said he was impressed with the variety of activities of the project, which would be integral to the development of Nepal’s wheat program.

“Nepal envisions increased wheat productivity from 2.84 to 3.5 tons per hectare within five years. I hope this project will help us to achieve this goal. Fast tracking the replacement of seed to more recent varieties will certainly improve productivity and resilience of the wheat sector,” he said.

The National Wheat Coordinator at the National Agricultural Research Center of Pakistan, Atiq Ur-Rehman, told attendees that his government had recently launched a “mega project” to reduce poverty and hunger and to respond to climate change through sustainable intensification. He noted that the support of AGG would help the country increase its capacity in “vertical production” of wheat through speed breeding. “AGG will help us save 3 to 4 years” in breeding time,” he said.

For CIMMYT Global Wheat Program Director Hans Braun, the gathering was personal as well as professional.

“I have met many of you over the last decades,” he told attendees, mentioning his first CIMMYT trip to see wheat programs in India in 1985. “Together we have achieved a lot — wheat self-sufficiency for South Asia has been secured now for 50 years. This would not be possible without your close collaboration, your trust and your willingness to share germplasm and information, and I hope this will stay. “

Braun pointed out that in this project, many national partners will gain the tools and capacity to implement their own state of the art breeding strategies such as genomic selection.

“We are at the beginning of a new era in breeding,” Braun noted. “We are also initiating a new era of collaboration.”

The wheat component of AGG serves more than 30 million wheat farming households in Bangladesh, Ethiopia, India, Kenya, Nepal and Pakistan. A separate inception meeting for stakeholders in sub-Saharan Africa is planned for next month.