A major scientific breakthrough that could lead to new wheat varieties with drought tolerance, resistance to diseases and higher yields.
That’s how the global media reported the recent announcement that a team of UK researchers had published the first sequence of the wheat genome.
It generated sensational headlines such as “the most significant breakthrough in wheat production in 10,000 years” and “a scientific tour de force”.
However, the International Wheat Genome Sequence Consortium stresses that there is much work still to be done, highlighting that the reporters failed to appreciate that the released sequence information is still in a raw form.
For plant breeders working on the next generation of wheat varieties, it’s a welcome development which has received an enthusiastic response across the board.
“It’s the first attempt at complete genome coverage, which is fantastic,” says Richard Summers, vice-chairman of the British Society of Plant Breeders and head of cereal breeding at RAGT Seeds. “It’s also been done in a collaborative manner, which is just what the plant breeding community wanted to see.
“It’s a really good example of how to get some very important, relevant science out to commercial outlets, so that it can be used in agriculture, for the benefit of all.”
What it gives companies like RAGT Seeds is an insight into the ability to develop a new set of markers known as single nucleotide polymorphisms, or SNPs, which Dr Summers describes as the ultimate marker system.
“With SNPs, there’s the potential for us to have many tens of thousands of different markers,” he reveals. “In comparison, the current marker system we’re using, which is known as SSRs (simple sequence repeats), has only a few thousand.”
His colleague, Peter Jack, cereal genotyping manager, explains that SNPs offer the company two main technical advantages.
“They can be developed very near to the genes and they’re much easier to use in the laboratory. That means our throughput capacity can be increased.”
As a practical tool, SNP markers won’t be ready for another couple of years, he adds. “It’s revolutionary technology which will be extremely useful to us. But more investment is needed for the next step and the project still has time to run. Things are evolving very quickly.”
For growers, the inclusion of new markers in practical breeding programmes will bring genetic benefits in new wheat varieties. Yield, quality and disease resistance are likely to improve, as SNP markers will allow breeding to become both quicker and more targeted.
“These markers can be applied to younger generations and over bigger numbers,” continues Dr Jack. “They will allow us to move from phenotype to genotype, making the breeding process more controlled and removing some of the genetic bottlenecks that have been associated with wheat breeding in the past.”
Bill Angus, wheat breeder with Nickerson, part of Limagrain, is also positive about the latest developments and applauds the work of the UK team, describing it as a significant step forwards.
“The challenge now for the plant breeding community is to work out how to optimise its use. We are building information about the way that plants work at a very rapid rate – the progress made in the last three to four years is greater than that of the previous 20.”
He points out that the sequencing of the human genome hasn’t led to the development of designer drugs yet, so growers will have to be prepared to wait a bit longer for the next generation of wheat varieties.
“It’s another set of tools and a useful platform, rather than the silver bullet. It opens up opportunities for traits to be included which have a value to growers, such as drought tolerance and disease resistance.”
Mr Angus expects that, as a result of the latest development, varieties which come to the market in the next five to 10 years will be more resilient and robust, with better consistency levels. “It should get rid of the booms and busts, such as variety breakdowns to new races of rust, for example.”
SASKATOON, SASKATCHEWAN–(Marketwire – Sept. 15, 2010) – Pulse research agreement to improve commercial yield, disease and drought resistance for $2 billion crop family
The National Research Council (NRC), the Crop Development Centre (CDC) at the University of Saskatchewan, and Saskatchewan Pulse Growers (SPG) announced a new partnership today at the 10th Agricultural Biotechnology International Conference in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan.
The new partnership aims to improve commercial pulse yield through genomics research that will contribute to: decreased production costs and reduced risks, increased crop value, and enhanced processing quality. Through the agreement, NRC will conduct research that is linked to the established pipeline for pulse crop breeding funded by SPG at the CDC. The agreement is valued at over $3.8 million over three years.
“This agreement will lead to yield improvements and increased revenue for Saskatchewan’s pulse industry and its farmers,” said Director General of the NRC Plant Biotechnology Institute (NRC-PBI), Mr. Jerome Konecsni.
“This project with NRC-PBI and the CDC will deliver outputs that will contribute to meeting the SPG Vision of Saskatchewan being the preferred supplier of high quality pulses to world food markets. We believe that the winning formula in this agreement is the involvement of the pulse crop breeding group from the CDC,” says Dr. Kofi Agblor, Director of Research with SPG.
“We are very happy indeed to further develop our relationships with SPG and NRC in this project, which will bring together the dedicated scientists at NRC and the CDC to jointly pursue the goal of developing and implementing breeding tools for genetic improvement of pulse crops,” says Dorothy Murrell, Managing Director of the CDC.
Pulses are Canada’s fastest growing crop sector and have increased more than 400 per cent over the past 15 years. Canada is now the world’s leading producer and exporter of peas and lentils, and a major producer of chickpeas and common beans. In 2009, Saskatchewan farmers planted 5.3 million acres of pulses, representing 99 per cent of the lentil crop, 99 per cent of the chickpea crop and 80 per cent of pea crops worth $1.8 billion.
Rapid expansion of pulse crop acreage in Canada, especially in Saskatchewan, combined with more intense rotations requires that the crops have broad adaptation to various conditions while maintaining high yield, a diverse product range, and superior quality. This also increases the risk of leaf and soil diseases, which threaten the sustainability of crop production.
New approaches developed as a result of this agreement will facilitate the production of pulse crop cultivars that have the traits needed to improve production systems, increase the stability of crops, and improve commercial yield.
“By investing in the development of gene markers for pulses at NRC-PBI, SPG and the Crop Development Centre can incorporate these new tools into their breeding programs, speeding up varietal development, and thereby reducing costs,” says Dr. Andrew Sharpe, head of the DNA Technologies Laboratory at NRC-PBI. “These new varieties will carry traits of interest to Saskatchewan farmers, increasing the value at the farm-gate.”
“The CDC Pulse Team has worked for many years in conjunction with SPG, and has been highly successful in developing new and improved varieties of pea, lentil, chickpea and dry bean as the starting point for the growth of the pulse industry,” says Dr. Bunyamin Tar’an, chickpea breeder at the CDC. “This project will help us to develop and implement new breeding efficiencies in our program.”
NRC-PBI has been developing genomics resources with support from the Saskatchewan Ministry of Agriculture, and Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada (AAFC). The Ministry of Agriculture is supporting the project “Genomics of Flax, Lentil, Field Pea and Pea” with a cash value of $400,000 and AAFC is supporting the project “High Through-put Genotyping for Pulse Crops” with a cash value of $500,050 under the Pulse Research Network (PURENet).The new partnership with SPG and the CDC will now allow us to apply that expertise to develop new crop varieties with improved disease resistance and stress tolerance,” said Mr. Konecsni.
This partnership is being announced at the Agricultural Biotechnology International Conference (ABIC), being held in Saskatoon from September 12th to 15th. The ABIC Foundation’s goal is to ensure ongoing opportunities for continuous learning and networking within the agricultural biotechnology community through the ABIC Conferences.
About the National Research Council
The National Research Council is dedicated to improving Canadian crops to benefit the Canadian economy. It performs and promotes research and innovation that improves plant biotechnology methods and adds value and quality to Canadian crops to keep our agricultural sector strong and competitive.
About the Saskatchewan Pulse Growers
The Saskatchewan Pulse Growers (SPG) represents over 18,000 pulse crop producers in Saskatchewan. Accountable to growers and funded through a mandatory check-off, SPG has a producer-elected board of directors comprised of seven pulse growers. With a legislated mandate to build a prosperous pulse industry in Saskatchewan, SPG invests in research and market development and promotes sustainable innovation, growth and success through leadership, collaboration and support.
For more information, visit http://www.saskpulse.com/
About the Crop Development Centre
Located within the College of Agriculture and Bioresources, the Crop Development Centre is Saskatchewan’s plant breeding institute. The CDC develops varieties of spring wheat, durum, canary seed, barley, oat, flax, pea, lentil, chickpea, and dry bean for the economic benefit of western Canadian farmers and agricultural industry members. Since its inception in 1971, the CDC has released over 345 new plant varieties.
For more information, please visit NRC’s Web site at http://www.nrc-cnrc.gc.ca