A new wheat breeding research centre will be opened at the University of Nottingham next week (April 11) by Jeanie Borlaug Laube.
Ms Borlaug is the daughter of Norman E Borlaug who received a Nobel Prize for his lifetime of work to feed a hungry world and is herself an influential international advocate for wheat research and science.
The Wheat Research Centre, in the university’s School of Biosciences is led by husband and wife team Professor Ian King and Dr Julie King, working with a team of experts. Their new industrial scale ‘shotgun’ approach to plant breeding has only been made possible through technological advances and specific breeding strategies but it could help to guarantee the sustainability of one of our leading sources of food, says the university.
WRC is part of the BBSRC funded Wheat Improvement Strategic Programme (WISP). New technological advances are now enabling the high throughput detection of single chromosome segments (introgressions) from wild relatives, which carry new genetic variation, introduced into wheat. This means the Nottingham group can transfer these tiny bits of genetic information from the wild relatives into wheat on a large scale creating a step change in the search for new varieties of wheat that will cope with disease and climate change.
Dr King says: “We are working ‘shot gun’. We are transferring as many segments of different chromosomes as possible from as many different species as possible so they can be screened for any of the traits the breeders are interested in. What we’ve done in four and a half years is produce hundreds of introgressions - this vast reserve of genetic variation will form the basis for new variety development in the future.”
Professor King adds: “Breeders have done a fantastic job of using the genetic variation that already exists but there’s been a plateauing of yields. Our research has dramatically speeded up the natural hybridisation process so we can develop new lines of wheat on an industrial scale.”
Both the new germplasm and the information generated by this project will be made freely available. That means plant breeders can use the germplasm to cross with their existing lines, while academics will be able to make use of it to understand the mechanistic basis of key traits in bread wheat.