Cambridge scientists say they have developed a new type of wheat which could increase productivity by 30% offering greater yields. This new wheat has been bred from a wild grass species.
The National Institute of Agricultural Botany (NIAB) in based in Cambridge, has recreated the original rare cross between an ancient wheat and wild grass species that happened in the Middle East 10,000 years ago.
The result is a ‘synthetic’ wheat which, when crossed with modern UK varieties, could offer new sources of yield improvement, drought tolerance, disease resistance and input use efficiency.
The synthetic wheat programme involves crossing durum pasta wheat with wild goat-grass using traditional crossing techniques in the glasshouse combined with tissue culture in the research laboratory to guarantee seed germination. The process required no genetic modification of the crops.
The resulting hybrid plants produce the ‘synthetic’ seed which is then used in crossing programmes with current varieties.
“The plan is to use this material in screening experiments to provide breeders with material adapted to the challenges of the future, with restrictions on pesticides and fertilisers coupled with projected climate change, with varieties on-farm by 2019 at the earliest,” says Dr Howell.
Over the next 50 years the world needs to grow more wheat than has been produced in the 10,000 years since agriculture began. But wheat yields are showing signs of reaching a plateau; the national average UK wheat yield on-farm has stalled at around 8t/ha for the past 12 years.
“The original ancient cross has, so far, provided the genetic basis for all today’s modern wheat varieties. Over the years, domestication of the wheat plant has increased yields, but recently those increases have slowed leading to concerns for future food security” says NIAB CEO Dr Tina Barsby.
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