University of Sydney connection delivers past, present and future wheat at CIMMYT

CIMMYT wheat scientists with connections to the University of Sydney were recently recognized in an issue of Georgika, the newsletter of the University’s Institute of Agriculture. Following is a transcription of the article.

Over the course of several decades, the University of Sydney has been sowing seeds of scientific talent that have taken root at a wheat research centre based halfway around the world: the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (CIMMYT), a world-renowned international agricultural research and training non-profit headquartered in Mexico.

CIMMYT’s origins go back to the work of Norman Borlaug, which helped spark the Green Revolution and led to a Nobel Peace Prize. Today, CIMMYT scientists with ties to the University of Sydney are conducting state-of-the-art wheat science that Norman Borlaug might only have dreamed of.

Sanjaya Rajaram is CIMMYT’s most legendary University of Sydney alumnus. Sanjaya, 2014 World Food Prize laureate and 33-year veteran of CIMMYT developed 480 wheat varieties released in 51 countries and served as Director of the Global Wheat Program, received his PhD in plant breeding in the 1960s for a project based in Narrabri.

From legendary breeders to brand-new leaders, the University of Sydney-CIMMYT pipeline appears to be strong and growing. We caught up with a few of the many CIMMYT scientists with ties to the University, to find out how their University connection impacts their work creating the future of wheat.

Ravi Singh

Ravi Singh is a distinguished scientist and head of CIMMYT’s International Wheat Improvement Program, where he has been working for the last 37 years. Ravi earned his doctoral degree from the University of Sydney in genetics of rust resistance in wheat. In this role, his mission is to continue enhancing wheat productivity on 60 million hectares in Asia, Africa and Latin America by developing and distributing new more productive, disease resistant, climate resilient wheat varieties with processing and nutritional qualities to wheat researchers worldwide. Ravi has contributed to the development of more than 550 wheat varieties released by national program partners in many countries, including Australia.

“My University of Sydney scholarship and the opportunity to work under the supervision of Bob McIntosh gave me excellent knowledge of wheat rusts and resistance, which brought me to CIMMYT to continue working on it when I joined in 1983. Breeding rust resistant varieties with other necessary traits became a passion for me and that is what I do nowadays,” Ravi said.

Sridhar Bhavani

Sridhar Bhavani received a master’s degree in Molecular Biotechnology and a doctoral degree in Wheat Rust Genetics and Breeding from the University of Sydney. As the head of rust research at CIMMYT, Sridhar Bhavani’s objective is to develop improved bread and durum wheat germplasm with durable resistance to the three rust diseases: leaf rust, yellow rust and stem rust. This involves dissecting the genetic components of resistance in a wide range of germplasm to better understand the genetic architecture of the trait, developing breeder friendly markers for trait introgression, coordinating the rust phenotyping platforms and working closely with the global rust reference centers on improved survey and surveillance and capacity building of national programs.


Sridhar Bhavani visits PBI-University of Sydney experimental fields in 2018 with Dr. Harbans Bariana and Dr. Urmil Bansal. Photo courtesy of Sridhar Bhavani.

Sridhar’s 12-year collaboration with the University of Sydney’s Plant Breeding Institute (PBI) continues to this day with PBI projects on wheat and barley with the Australian Cereal Rust Control Program; and with the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO)-University of Sydney molecular marker program, funded by the Grains Research and Development Corporation (GRDC).

During his academic career at the University, Sridhar was awarded a Faculty of Science Student Fellowship for his master’s degree research and the Thomas Lawrence Pawlett Scholarship for his doctoral research.

“The Plant Breeding Institute, University of Sydney has been instrumental in honing my theoretical and technical skills during my PhD study,” Sridhar said. “It was a rewarding experience working with eminent rust researchers. PBI has a wide network of collaborations both with CGIAR centers and advanced research institutes and universities, providing opportunities for students to conduct research at other centers. It still continues to be a hub for training young researchers from all over the world on cereal rusts.”

Alison Bentley

Alison Bentley is one of the newest University alumni to join CIMMYT, taking over as Director of the Global Wheat Program in November 2020. Alison earned both a BScAgr and a PhD at the University of Sydney.  Prior to joining CIMMYT, Alison was the director of Genetics and Breeding at the UK National Institute of Agricultural Botany (NIAB),working on wheat pre-breeding and trait genetics. She serves as the UK representative on the International Wheat Initiative Scientific Committee, and is a committee member for the Genetics Society, the UK Plant Sciences Federation, the Society of Experimental Botany, and the Editorial Board of Heredity.

CIMMYT Global Wheat Program Director Alison Bentley at her undergraduate graduation with Professor Lester Burgess. Photo courtesy of Alison Bentley.

“My research centres on the major questions of how to mobilize new scientific tools and technologies to accelerate wheat breeding, how better to adapt wheat to increasing seasonal instability and how to optimise input use in cereal-based cropping systems. These research areas are closely aligned with the work of the Global Wheat Program at CIMMYT and I am really looking forward to working with the incredible team to continue to use research and breeding to drive wheat breeding gains and their associated impacts.”

Alison “hugely enjoyed” her time as an undergrad and postgrad student at Sydney; particularly noting the “welcoming, friendly, and collaborative environment in which to discover things.”

“Questions were always encouraged (at all levels) and staff were always happy to share opinions (not always positive, but always constructive).”

Alison’s relationship with the university began a weekend event hosted at PBI Cobbitty for high school students interested in agriculture. The opportunity to have hands-on experience extracting DNA, touring facilities and hearing from plant breeders and other scientists inspired her to pursue her education there, a decision with lifelong impacts.

“I enjoyed the focus on application of science into practice, which I have carried forward in my career.”

“Sydney Uni was also a great environment to combine different interests and gave me the opportunity to play international sport whilst studying as well as to travel and enhance both my personal and professional development. This was very important for developing my understanding of how to work with others and to lead and manage diverse teams.”

Alison Bentley during undergraduate field work in Central Australia. Photo courtesy of Alison Bentley.

Mandeep Randhawa

Mandeep Randhawa earned his doctoral degree in Wheat Rust Pathology, Molecular Genetics and Breeding from University of Sydney. Mandeep currently manages and organizes the operational activities of the International Stem Rust Phenotyping Platform led by CIMMYT and the Kenya Agricultural and Livestock Research Organization (KALRO) in Njoro, Kenya.

Mandeep Randhawa in the field making wheat crosses (background PBI Cobbitty building). Photo courtesy of Mandeep Randhawa.

“In a nutshell, I contribute to rust research through identification and characterization of new sources of rust resistance, development of breeder friendly markers, transfer of rust resistance genes in breeding lines, field evaluation of germplasm accessions (wheat, durum, barley and oat) from various countries, and facilitating delivery of improved high yielding wheat lines for identification and release in the country. I also promote biofortified wheat lines in the region and conduct monitoring and early warning through improved rust surveys and surveillance, and capacity building through annual training courses and supervising students,” Mandeep explained.

Mandeep’s association with the University of Sydney began with his contribution to an Australian Centre for International Agricultural Research (ACIAR)-funded India-Australia collaborative research project on molecular marker technologies for faster wheat breeding in India, led by Sydney’s Richard Trethowan. From there, Mandeep was awarded the John Allwright Fellowship from ACIAR to pursue his PhD at Sydney, where his studies covered genetic characterization and mapping of rust resistance genes to facilitate their marker-assisted transfer into Indian and Australian wheat cultivars.

His collaboration with the Plant Breeding Institute Cobbitty continues at CIMMYT, with GRDC-funded joint wheat rust projects with the Institute and CSIRO.

“The Plant Breeding Institute Cobbitty is considered a ‘Mecca’ of cereal rust research. It was an honour and privilege to work, learn and conduct research with the support and mentorship of well-known scientists in cereal rust research” such as Drs. Urmil Bansal, Harbans Bariana and Richard Trethowan, he said. “My interdisciplinary training –in pathology, molecular genetics and breeding for disease resistance – at Sydney has equipped me with skills and capabilities to pursue my current role.”

Naeela Qureshi

Naeela Qureshi earned a doctoral degree in Molecular Genetics/Plant Breeding and Pathology from the University of Sydney and worked as a Research Associate at the Plant Breeding Institute. Naeela recently joined CIMMYT as an Associate Scientist in wheat rust molecular genetics and pathology, where she focuses on identifying and characterizing new sources of rust resistance genes and developing breeder friendly molecular markers linked with various rust resistance genes to facilitate marker-assisted breeding.

She is recipient of the early career award from International Wheat Genome Sequencing Consortium (IWGSC), the Jeanie Borlaug Laube Women in Triticum (WIT) award, and the USDA Borlaug Fellowship — but before these recognitions, she received the University of Sydney International Scholarship and Australian Endeavour Award that led her to her PhD.

After earning her doctoral degree in Molecular Genetics/Plant Breeding and Pathology, Naeela then became a PBI Research Associate working on discovery, characterization and molecular mapping of rust resistance genes. And, in a third role, Naeela went on to providing next-generation sequencing platforms to PBI collaborators at Agriculture Victoria Research.

“PBI played a very significant role in shaping and developing my capabilities in wheat rust research,” Naeela said. “All my practical and academic research skills in wheat rust discipline comes from PBI and my supervisors, Dr. Urmil Bansal and Dr. Harbans Bariana.

 “I am looking forward to collaborating with University of Sydney researchers in the future under joint projects with CIMMYT,” Naeela said, echoing her CIMMYT colleagues.

Other Sydney alumni who have worked at CIMMYT include former CIMMYT wheat breeder David Bonnett and durum wheat and maize pathologist Sandro Loladze.

Richard Trethowan, undergraduate and postgraduate alumnus of the Faculty of Agriculture and now Professor of Plant Breeding and Director of the PBI, spent 13 years at CIMMYT and was the Principal Scientist and Head of Global Bread Wheat Breeding for Rainfed Areas.

Press Release: “Historic” release of six improved wheat varieties in Nepal

 High-zinc and climate resilient varieties poised to boost production for farmers and nutrition for consumers

One of the newly-released biofortified wheat varieties, NL 1369 (Zinc Gahun-2), in the field. Photo: NARC

Kathmandu (Nepal) December 11, 2020

The Nepal Agricultural Research Council (NARC) announced the release of six new wheat varieties for multiplication and distribution to the country’s wheat farmers, offering increased production for Nepal’s nearly one million wheat farmers and boosted nutrition for its 28 million wheat consumers.

The varieties, which are derived from materials developed by the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (CIMMYT), include five bred for elevated levels of the crucial micronutrient zinc,  and Borlaug 100, a variety well known to be high yielding, drought and heat resilient, and resistant to wheat blast, as well as high in zinc.

 “Releasing six varieties in one attempt is historic news for Nepal,” said CIMMYT Asia Regional Representative and Principal Scientist Arun Joshi.

“It is an especially impressive achievement by the NARC breeders and technicians during a time of COVID-related challenges and restrictions,” said NARC Executive Director Deepak Bhandari.  

“This was a joint effort by many scientists in our team who played a critical role in generating proper data, and making a strong case for these varieties to the release committee, ” said Roshan Basnet, Head of the National Wheat Research Program based in Bhairahawa, Nepal, who was instrumental in releasing three of the varieties, including Borlaug 2020.

“We are very glad that our hard work has paid off for our country’s farmers,” said Dhruba Thapa, Chief and wheat breeder at the National Plant Breeding and Genetics Research Centre, NARC.

Nepal produces 1.96 million tons of wheat on more than 750,000 hectares, but its wheat farmers are mainly smallholders with less than 1-hectare holdings and limited access to inputs or mechanization. In addition, most of the popular wheat varieties grown in the country have become susceptible to new races of wheat rust diseases.  

The new varieties — Zinc Gahun 1, Zinc Gahun 2, Bheri-Ganga, Himganga, Khumal-Shakti, and Borlaug 2020 — were bred and tested in a “fast-track” approach, with CIMMYT and NARC scientists moving material from trials in CIMMYT’s research station in Mexico to multiple locations in Nepal and other Target Population of Environments (TPEs) for testing. 

“Thanks to a big effort from Arun Joshi and our NARC partners we were able to collect important data in first year, reducing the time it takes to release new varieties,” said CIMMYT Head of Wheat Improvement Ravi Singh.

The varieties are tailored for conditions of a range of wheat growing regions in the country – from the hotter lowland, or Terai, regions to the irrigated as well as dryer mid- and high-elevation areas – and for stresses including wheat rust diseases and wheat blast. The five high-zinc, biofortified varieties were developed through conventional crop breeding by crossing modern high yielding wheats with high zinc progenitors such as landraces, spelt wheat and emmer wheat.   

 “Zinc deficiency is a serious problem in Nepal, with 21% of children found to be zinc deficient in 2016. Biofortification of staple crops such as wheat is a proven method to help reverse and prevent this deficiency, especially for those without access to a more diverse diet,” said CIMMYT Senior Scientist and wheat breeder Velu Govindan, who specializes in breeding biofortified varieties.

Borlaug 2020 is equivalent to Borlaug 100, a highly prized variety released in 2014 in Mexico to commemorate the centennial year of Nobel Peace laureate Dr. Norman E. Borlaug.  Coincidently, its release in Nepal coincides with the 50th anniversary of Borlaug’s Nobel Peace Prize.

NARC staff have already begun the process of seed multiplication and conducting participatory varietal selection trials with farmers, so very soon farmers throughout the country will benefit from these seeds.

“The number of new varieties and record release time is amazing,” said Joshi. “We now have varieties that will help Nepal’s farmers well into the future.”

CIMMYT breeding of biofortified varieties was funded by HarvestPlus. Variety release and seed multiplication activities in Nepal were supported by NARC and the Asian Development Bank (ADB) through collaboration with ADB Natural Resources Principal & Agriculture Specialist Michiko Katagami. This NARC-ADB-CIMMYT collaboration was prompted by World Food Prize winner and former HarvestPlus CEO Howarth Bouis, and provided crucial support that enabled the release in record time.

— ENDS —

RELATED RESEARCH PUBLICATION:  

Variability Study of Biofortified Bread Wheat Genotypes for Grain Zinc and Iron Concentration, Yield and Yield Associated Traits at Khumaltar, Lalitpur, Nepal.

INTERVIEW OPPORTUNITIES:

Arun Joshi, Asia Regional Representative and Principal Scientist, CIMMYT

FOR MORE INFORMATION, OR TO ARRANGE INTERVIEWS, CONTACT:

Marcia MacNeil, Communications Officer, CIMMYT m.macneil@cgiar.org.

ABOUT CIMMYT:

The International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (CIMMYT) is the global leader in publicly-funded maize and wheat research and related farming systems. Headquartered near Mexico City, CIMMYT works with hundreds of partners throughout the developing world to sustainably increase the productivity of maize and wheat cropping systems, thus improving global food security and reducing poverty. CIMMYT is a member of the CGIAR System and leads the CGIAR Research Programs on Maize and Wheat and the Excellence in Breeding Platform. The Center receives support from national governments, foundations, development banks and other public and private agencies. For more information, visit www.cimmyt.org.

ABOUT NARC:

Nepal Agricultural Research Council (NARC) was established in 1991 as an autonomous organization under the Nepal Agricultural Research Council Act – 1991 to conduct agricultural research in the country to uplift the economic level of Nepalese people.

ABOUT ADB:

The Asian Development Bank (ADB) is committed to achieving a prosperous, inclusive, resilient, and sustainable Asia and the Pacific, while sustaining its efforts to eradicate extreme poverty. It assists its members and partners by providing loans, technical assistance, grants, and equity investments to promote social and economic development.

This research is supported by CGIAR Fund Donors.

Press release: Landmark study generates genomic atlas for global wheat improvement

CIMMYT contributes to sequencing genomes of 15 wheat varieties around the world

Photo: Flickr/Saad Ahktar

Saskatoon, Saskatchewan (Canada), November 25, 2020.

In a landmark discovery for global wheat production, an international team led by the University of Saskatchewan (USask) and including scientists from the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (CIMMYT) has sequenced the genomes for 15 wheat varieties representing breeding programs around the world, enabling scientists and breeders to much more quickly identify influential genes for improved yield, pest resistance and other important crop traits.

The research results, just published in Nature, provide the most comprehensive atlas of wheat genome sequences ever reported. The 10+ Genome Project collaboration involved more than 95 scientists from universities and institutes in Canada, Switzerland, Germany, Japan, the U.K., Saudi Arabia, Mexico, Israel, Australia, and the U.S.

“It’s like finding the missing pieces for your favorite puzzle that you have been working on for decades,” said project leader Curtis Pozniak, wheat breeder and director of the USask Crop Development Centre (CDC). “By having many complete gene assemblies available, we can now help solve the huge puzzle that is the massive wheat pan-genome and usher in a new era for wheat discovery and breeding.”

“These discoveries pave the way to identifying genes responsible for traits wheat farmers in our partner countries are demanding, such as high yield, tolerance to heat and drought, and resistance to diseases and pests including wheat blast,” said Ravi Singh, head of global wheat improvement at CIMMYT and a study co-author.

One of the world’s most cultivated cereal crops, wheat plays an important role in global food security, providing about 20 per cent of human caloric intake globally. It’s estimated wheat production must increase by more than 50 per cent by 2050 to meet an increasing global demand.

The study findings build on the  first complete wheat genome reference map published by the  International Wheat Genome Sequencing Consortium in 2018,  increasing the number of wheat genome sequences almost 10-fold, and allowing scientists to identify genetic differences between wheat varieties.

The research team was also able to track the unique DNA signatures of genetic material incorporated into modern cultivars from wild wheat relatives over years of breeding.

“With partners at Kansas State University, we are very excited to leverage these genomic resources for genomics-assisted wheat breeding at CIMMYT” said Philomin Juliana, CIMMYT wheat breeder and study co-author.

 “This study has also provided the complete assembly of a wheat chromosomal segment called Vpm-1, which is derived from a wild wheat relative and has been consistently associated with high grain yield in the CIMMYT germplasm. This is a key milestone, given that this chromosomal segment is now present in more than 90% of the elite spring wheat lines distributed internationally by CIMMYT.”

The team also used the genome sequences to isolate an insect-resistant gene (called Sm1) that enables wheat plants to withstand the orange wheat blossom midge, a pest which causes millions of dollars in losses to wheat producers each year.  

“Understanding a causal gene like this is a game-changer for breeding because you can select for pest resistance more efficiently by using a simple DNA test than by manual field testing,” Pozniak said.

The 10+ Genome Project was sanctioned as a top priority by the Wheat Initiative, a coordinating body of international wheat researchers.

“This project is an excellent example of coordination across leading research groups around the globe.  Essentially every group working in wheat gene discovery, gene analysis and deployment of molecular breeding technologies will use the resource,” said Wheat Initiative Scientific Coordinator Peter Langridge.

Read the full press release from the University of Saskatchewan.

A list of international funding partners is available here:  http://www.10wheatgenomes.com/funders/                           

ABOUT CIMMYT:

The International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (CIMMYT) is the global leader in publicly-funded maize and wheat research and related farming systems. Headquartered near Mexico City, CIMMYT works with hundreds of partners throughout the developing world to sustainably increase the productivity of maize and wheat cropping systems, thus improving global food security and reducing poverty. CIMMYT is a member of the CGIAR System and leads the CGIAR Research Programs on Maize and Wheat and the Excellence in Breeding Platform. The Center receives support from national governments, foundations, development banks and other public and private agencies. For more information, visit www.cimmyt.org.

About the University of Saskatchewan’s Crop Development Centre (CDC)

The Crop Development Centre in the USask College of Agriculture and Bioresources is known for research excellence in developing high-performing crop varieties and developing genomic resources and tools to support breeding programs.  Its program is unique in that basic research is fully integrated into applied breeding to improve existing crops, create new uses for traditional crops, and develop new crops. The CDC has developed more than 400 commercialized crop varieties.  https://agbio.usask.ca/research/centres-and-facilities/crop-development-centre.php#MoreAbouttheCDC

RELATED RESEARCH PUBLICATIONS:  

Multiple Wheat Genomes Reveal Global Variation in Modern Breeding

FOR MORE INFORMATION, OR TO ARRANGE INTERVIEWS, CONTACT:

Marcia MacNeil, Communications Officer, CGIAR Research Program on Wheat, CIMMYT. m.macneil@cgiar.org

Victoria Dinh, Media Relations, Univeristy of Saskatchewan, Victoria.dinh@usask.ca, +01 306-966-5487

International Wheat Yield Partnership launches European Winter Wheat Hub

New hub joins existing network of large translational pipelines operating on spring wheat at CIMMYT in Mexico

Winter wheat. Photo: Flickr/pepperberryfarms

This press release was originally posted on the website of the International Wheat Yield Partnership.

Building on a wealth of existing investment in UK wheat research and development, including the UK Research and Innovation BBSRC-funded Designing Future Wheat programme (DFW), the International Wheat Yield Partnership (IWYP) has formed a new European Winter Wheat Hub that will accelerate research discoveries from the UK and globally into commercial plant breeding.

A public-private partnership, the IWYP-European Winter Wheat Hub will combine novel traits discovered by collaborative international teams into a range of high performing European winter wheat genetic backgrounds for assessment and use in winter wheat breeding programs.

The global agriculture companies BASF, KWS, RAGT and Syngenta, in collaboration with the UK National Institute for Agricultural Botany (NIAB), will provide a translational pipeline supporting European winter wheat improvement. In partnership with IWYP, commercial breeders will select key genetic discoveries of potential value for the European wheat community from global IWYP research projects. NIAB will then use its
expertise in pre-breeding to produce genetic material for the validation and development of selected IWYP research outputs.

Joining the wider existing IWYP Hub Network of large translational pipelines operating on spring wheat at CIMMYT (the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Centre) in Mexico and the recently established NIFA-IWYP Winter Wheat Breeding Innovation Hub at Kansas State University, USA, the IWYP-European Winter Wheat Hub will ensure that cutting-edge discoveries are rapidly available to both the participating wheat breeders and to the global wheat breeding community.

“This is another excellent example of how public-private partnerships (such as the DFW, the Wheat Initiative and IWYP) can work well at both the international and national level,” said Dr. Chris Tapsell from KWS, who is leading the IWYP-European Winter Wheat Hub development.

“And this hub will help ensure that the hard work of the IWYP researchers around the world will deliver impacts that address the twin challenges of increasing wheat production for food security whilst protecting the environment.”

Jeff Gwyn, who leads the IWYP program said, “The addition of this new hub further strengthens the IWYP Hub Network and enables the development of our innovations to reach a wider industry base more rapidly. It is critical for IWYP to have its research outputs taken up and utilized for the public good. Public-private partnerships such as this further demonstrate that the IWYP initiative is filling a significant gap and creating value.”

Tina Barsby, CEO of NIAB commented, “NIAB has a strong track record in pre-breeding of wheat and particularly in working closely with commercial breeders to bring new variability to the market. We are really looking forward to helping to advance IWYP project traits into breeding programs.”

For further information about the IWYP-European Winter Wheat Hub please contact Chris Tapsell (KWS): chris.tapsell@kws.com.

For further information about IWYP please contact Jeff Gwyn (IWYP):
jeff.gwyn@ag.tamu.edu.


The IWYP program is based on an innovative model for public funding and international scientific collaboration to address the global grand challenge of food, nutritional and economic security for the future. The model employs public-private partnerships to scale and drive its research innovations for impact. Operations require active coordination of the international research and development teams whose discovery research focuses on complementary and overlapping sets of potentially high impact novel trait targets deemed likely to underpin yield increases, such as the regulation of photosynthesis, optimal plant architecture, plant biomass
distribution, and grain number and size. As the results emerge, it is possible to envisage how to combine them and therefore simultaneously remove multiple constraints affecting yields in farmers’ fields. https://iwyp.org/


NIAB is an independent plant biosciences organisation working to translate fundamental research into innovative solutions and products for the agricultural sector. The IWYP-European Winter Wheat Hub will leverage established expertise in wheat genetics and breeding at NIAB, including newly developed glasshouse and molecular laboratory facilities.
https://www.niab.com/


BASF, KWS, RAGT and Syngenta are innovation-led leaders in the wheat breeding industry, developing varieties that deliver consistent year-on-year genetics gain for the benefit of wheat growers throughout Europe and North America. All companies are active members of IWYP and launched this initiative to speed up and ensure the effective utilisation of deliverables from IWYP research projects, which are funded by partners across the globe including the BBSRC in the UK.
www.kws.com
www.ragt.fr
www.basf.com
www.syngenta.com

CIMMYT (International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center) is a non-profit international agricultural research and training organization focusing on two of the world’s most important cereal grains: maize and wheat, and related cropping systems and livelihoods. www.cimmyt.org

An exciting time for wheat research: Incoming director highlights CIMMYT wheat breeding innovations

Alison Bentley, who will be joining the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (CIMMYT) next month as director of the Global Wheat Program and the CGIAR Research Program on Wheat, joined wheat research colleagues at the Borlaug Global Rust Initiative Technical Workshop last week to introduce herself and offer her perspective on current prospects for wheat research.

Bentley, who currently serves as director of Genetics and Breeding at the National Institute of Agricultural Botany in the UK, emphasized the efforts of CIMMYT and partner scientists in the Accelerating Genetic Gains in Maize and Wheat for Improved Livelihoods (AGG) project.

“AGG is unique, and it’s something that’s really close to my heart in harnessing innovations and deploying them in breeding to deliver genetic gains,” she said.

Bentley gave workshop attendees a sneak preview of new speed breeding facilities in CIMMYT’s Toluca experimental station, which will help wheat breeders reduce cycle time, saving costs and getting high yielding, improved varieties tested and in farmers’ fields more quickly.

“There has never been a more exciting time to be involved in wheat research and breeding,” she told the gathering.

See Alison Bentley’s full presentation from the BGRI Technical Workshop below.

Preserving the legacy of biodiversity

This story by Alfonso CortésRodrigo Ordóñez and Silvia Rico was originally published on the CIMMYT website.

A NordGen staff member brings a box of seed into the Global Seed Vault in Svalbard, Norway. (Photo: Thomas Sonne/Common Ground Media for NordGen)

Seed security is the first step towards food security. The International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (CIMMYT) preserves 28,000 unique seed samples of maize and 150,000 of wheat at its genebank in Mexico.

The Global Seed Vault in Svalbard opened in 2008. Since then, CIMMYT has duplicated and deposited 50 million seeds — 170,000 samples of maize and wheat — at Svalbard.

This year, CIMMYT sent 24 boxes of seed, with 332 samples of maize and 15,231 samples of wheat.

Join these seeds on a journey, as they travel more than 8,000 km from CIMMYT’s genebank in Mexico to the Global Seed Vault in the Arctic.

A supermarket, rather than a museum

This treasure, kept in the global network of genebanks, is key to ensuring sustainable, nutritious agricultural systems for future generations.

The purpose of genebanks is not just to preserve seed, but to use its biodiversity to address the needs of the future — and the needs of today.

Climate change is already impacting resource-poor farmers and consumers in low- and middle-income countries. Researchers and breeders at CIMMYT are rolling out solutions to these challenges, based on the diverse genetic resources kept in the genebank. As a result, farmers can use new varieties that yield more, need less inputs, and are more tolerant to drought or heat.

Our internal estimates show that about 30% of maize and more than 50% of wheat grown worldwide can be traced to CIMMYT germplasm.

Humanity’s legacy

Maize and wheat originated about 10,000 years ago. Since then, it’s survived war, drought, diseases, migration, birds, low yields — and the hard choice between feeding children or planting again.

Keepers of genebanks around the world are only the depositors of this legacy, which belongs to all humanity. CIMMYT will continue to preserve these seeds and to make their biodiversity available to researchers and famers, to solve today’s and tomorrow’s most pressing issues.

The value of research on plant resistance to insects

This article and video were originally published on the CIMMYT website.

Crop pest outbreaks are a serious threat to food security worldwide. Swarms of locusts continue to form in the Horn of Africa, threatening food security and farmer livelihoods ahead of a new cropping season. The devastating fall armyworm continues cause extensive damage in Africa and South Asia.

With almost 40% of food crops lost annually due to pests and diseases, plants resistance to insects is more important than ever. Last month, a group of wheat breeders and entomologists came together for the 2

4th Biannual International Plant Resistance to Insects (IPRI) Workshop, held at the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (CIMMYT) global headquarters outside Mexico City.

Watch Mike Smith, entomologist and distinguished professor emeritus at Kansas State University explain the importance of working with economists to document the value of plant insect resistance research, and why communication is crucial for raising awareness of the threat of crop pests and insect resistance solutions.

Related stories:

https://development.development.wheat.org/insect-resistance-workshop-focuses-on-legacy-importance-of-collaboration/

Concerned experts ask world leaders to head off a global food security crisis from COVID-19

This story by Mike Listman was originally posted on the CIMMYT website.

Alarmed by the risk of global and regional food shortages triggered by the COVID-19 pandemic, a coalition of businesses, farmers’ groups, industry, non-governmental organizations, and academia has called on world leaders urgently to maintain open trade of their surplus food products.

Published by the Food and Land Use Coalition (FOLU) on April 9, 2020, and signed by 60 experts, the call to action urges world leaders to keep food supplies flowing, specially support vulnerable people, and finance sustainable, resilient food systems.

Covered by major world media, the declaration encourages governments to treat food production, processing, and distribution as an essential sector — similar to public health care — and thus to support continued, safe, and healthy activities by farmers and others who contribute to the sector, according to Martin Kropff, director general of the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (CIMMYT) and a signatory of the call to action.

“Consumers in low-income countries face the greatest threat of food insecurity,” said Kropff. “Their tenuous access to nutritious food is jeopardized when surplus food-producing nations choose to close trade as a defensive measure.”

Kropff added that many households in low-income countries depend on agriculture or related activities for their food and livelihoods. Their productivity and food security are compromised by illness or restrictions on movement or working.

“The call to action resonates with the findings of a landmark 2015 study by Lloyd’s of London,” he explained. “That work highlighted the fragility of global food systems in the event of coinciding shocks, an outcome that seems entirely possible now, given the health, cultural, and economic impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic.”

At the same time, the work of CIMMYT, other CGIAR centers, and their partners worldwide helps to stabilize food systems, according to Kropff.

“Our research outputs include high-yielding, climate-resilient crop varieties and more productive, profitable and sustainable farming methods,” he said. “These give farmers — and especially smallholders — the ingredients for more efficient and effective farming. They are grounded in reality through feedback from farmers and local partners, as well as socioeconomic studies on markets and value chains for food production, processing, and distribution.”

Conservation agriculture key in meeting UN Sustainable Development Goals

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

An international team of scientists has provided a sweeping new analysis of the benefits of conservation agriculture for crop performance, water use efficiency, farmers’ incomes and climate action across a variety of cropping systems and environments in South Asia.

The analysis, published today in Nature Sustainability, is the first of its kind to synthesize existing studies on conservation agriculture in South Asia and allows policy makers to prioritize where and which cropping systems to deploy conservation agriculture techniques. The study uses data from over 9,500 site-year comparisons across South Asia.

According to M.L. Jat, a principal scientist at the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (CIMMYT) and first author of the study, conservation agriculture also offers positive contributions to the Sustainable Development Goals of no poverty, zero hunger, good health and wellbeing, climate action and clean water.

“Conservation agriculture is going to be key to meet the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals,” echoed JK Ladha, adjunct professor at the University of California, Davis, and co-author of the study.

Scientists from CIMMYT, the Indian Council of Agricultural Research (ICAR), the University of California, Davis, the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) and Cornell University looked at a variety of agricultural, economic and environmental performance indicators — including crop yields, water use efficiency, economic return, greenhouse gas emissions and global warming potential — and compared how they correlated with conservation agriculture conditions in smallholder farms and field stations across South Asia.

Results and impact on policy

Researchers found that many conservation agriculture practices had significant benefits for agricultural, economic and environmental performance indicators, whether implemented separately or together. Zero tillage with residue retention, for example, had a mean yield advantage of around 6%, provided farmers almost 25% more income, and increased water use efficiency by about 13% compared to conventional agricultural practices. This combination of practices also was shown to cut global warming potential by up to 33%.

This comes as good news for national governments in South Asia, which have been actively promoting conservation agriculture to increase crop productivity while conserving natural resources. South Asian agriculture is known as a global “hotspot” for climate vulnerability.

“Smallholder farmers in South Asia will be impacted most by climate change and natural resource degradation,” said Trilochan Mohapatra, Director General of ICAR and Secretary of India’s Department of Agricultural Research and Education (DARE). “Protecting our natural resources for future generations while producing enough quality food to feed everyone is our top priority.”

“ICAR, in collaboration with CIMMYT and other stakeholders, has been working intensively over the past decades to develop and deploy conservation agriculture in India. The country has been very successful in addressing residue burning and air pollution issues using conservation agriculture principles,” he added.

With the region’s population expected to rise to 2.4 billion, demand for cereals is expected to grow by about 43% between 2010 and 2050. This presents a major challenge for food producers who need to produce more while minimizing greenhouse gas emissions and damage to the environment and other natural resources.

“The collaborative effort behind this study epitomizes how researchers, policy-makers, and development practitioners can and should work together to find solutions to the many challenges facing agricultural development, not only in South Asia but worldwide,” said Jon Hellin, leader of the Sustainable Impact Platform at IRRI.

ICARDA’s Mustapha El-Bouhssini explains how crop pests are moving in a warming world

This article and video were originally published on the CIMMYT website.

Insect resistance in plants is needed now more than ever. The UN, which has named 2020 as the International Year of Plant Health, estimates that almost 40% of food crops are lost annually due to plant pests and diseases.

Earlier this month, a group of wheat breeders and entomologists came together for the 24th Biannual International Plant Resistance to Insects (IPRI) Workshop, held at the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (CIMMYT).

We caught up with Mustapha El-Bouhssini, principal scientist at the International Center for Agricultural Research in the Dry Areas (ICARDA) to discuss insect pests and climate change. He explains how pests such as the Hessian fly — a destructive wheat pest which resembles a mosquito — and the chickpea pod borer are extending their geographical ranges in response to rising temperatures.