In May 2020, two PhD students from India – Rathan ND and Kuldeep Yadav – completed a three-month training program for wheat breeders, which took place at CIMMYT campuses in Mexico.
Both were supervised by Velu Govindan, Itria Ibba and Susanne Dreisigacker, and received financial support from the World Bank-funded NAHEP-CAAST Fellowship Program, which supports training programs outside of India.
“This is a great opportunity for young PhD students,” says Govindan. “There are new advances in wheat breeding, especially in terms of modern genomics tools and technologies, but the crop breeder should be empowered with scientific acumen to decide which tools to use and integrate in their crop improvement program to accelerate development and delivery of climate-resilient nutritious crops.”
The training program – Application of classical breeding and molecular tools for improving wheat quality and yield determining traits – helps to collate and adopt modern-day tools such as genomics and high-throughput phenotyping methods to accelerate the rate of genetic gains and address the issue of food and nutrition security. During their placement the students were exposed to both field-based breeding at CIMMYT’s Obregon site and wheat quality and molecular breeding at the main campus at El Batán.
Rathan is completing a PhD in Genetics and Plant Breeding at the Indian Agricultural Research Institute (IARI) in New Delhi and hopes to work in the Indian Agricultural Research Service or a CGIAR Center following his degree.
The highlight of his time at CIMMYT was being able to carry out fieldwork in Obregon, where he particularly enjoyed working on individual plant selection. “I also really enjoyed interacting with scientists and technicians who are very knowledgeable, helpful and friendly. The working environment and research facilities at CIMMYT helped me to learn research methodologies without any stress or difficulties.”
The only major challenge he faced was returning home at the end of his placement. “My stay was scheduled for three months but because of the COVID-19 situation I ended up staying for four and a half months. Fortunately, I got a special flight to Mumbai and reached home safely,” he explains. “CIMMYT’s support for my whole journey from the date I started my training program till sending me back is highly appreciable and I am very thankful to CIMMYT and my research advisors.”
New IWYP brief highlights innovations for high-yielding wheat lines
Our partners at the International Wheat Yield Partnership are examining hundreds of wheat wild relatives, wheat-wild crosses and landraces in a search for gene variants associated with a high rate of photosynthesis – a trait related to higher crop yield.
This news is highlighted in the first IWYP Science Brief — a series launched to share ongoing research and exciting outputs that aim to transform scientific innovations into new higher yielding wheat lines.
A research collaboration led by Erik Murchie at the
University of Nottingham, UK has found a number of wheat wild relative species
with photosynthetic rates up to a third greater than any of the modern wheat
Twenty-one wheat lines with chromosomal segments associated with this trait have been evaluated in the field at the IWYP Hub in Obregon, Mexico. The four best segments are being introduced into IWYP lines to evaluate their effect in the elite spring wheat lines that are used in breeding programs around the world.
The Wheat Initiative, through the Expert Working Groups on Wheat Phenotyping and Wheat Information Systems and in collaboration with Elixir Europe, is organizing a two-day training workshop on data management for wheat phenotyping data. The workshop is open to non wheat scientists and data managers willing to attend on their own budget.
Attendees will be provided with an overview of current practices and methods for plant phenotyping data. Genomic Open-source Breeding informatics initiative (GOBii), http://gobiiproject.org/, funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation has developed open-source genotype data management and marker- and genomic-assisted breeding tools and are working on integrating these with adjacent data management systems and tools.
This workshop will focus on GOBii data management and tools. For the wheat community training, GOBii will provide a cloud-based GOBii system and examples of wheat use cases and datasets for demonstration and hands-on training. All training will be given in English.
“This will make us one of the world’s best breeding programs,” says visiting scientist
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
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
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
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
“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