01 May 2012
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NIAB TAG is creating some magic at the Cereals Event with the development of a new resource in wheat genetics. MAGIC is NIAB’s ‘Multi-parent Advanced Generation Inter-Cross’ plant breeding programme, a six-year study that has produced over 1,000 new wheat lines.
Now in a yield trial at Cambridge covering 2.6 ha – the largest single field experiment NIAB has ever undertaken – the MAGIC project is a unique opportunity to identify the traits that make wheat such a high yielding crop. The plot at the Cereals Event is a snapshot of the trial, and includes the eight parents, a blend of the parents, and nine of the finished lines, MAGIC-A to MAGIC-I.
“Until now most researchers studying crop traits have used populations of 100-200 progeny lines derived by crossing two wheat varieties. Among these lines, traits segregate according to the genes that each inherits from the two parents,” explains NIAB plant breeder Dr Phil Howell.
“MAGIC brought together eight different parents in a complex crossing scheme that took three generations to assemble, and mixes up the genes from different parents much more than normal crossing. In comparison with the two parent version, MAGIC encompasses more genetic diversity from eight varieties. Over 1,000 lines were extracted by self-fertilisation over four to five generations,” says Phil.
The MAGIC parents were selected as being important links in the UK wheat pedigree, directly relevant to commercial breeders’ germplasm and may represent many common parents or grandparents currently used within crossing programmes.
So how will MAGIC be used to study trait genes in wheat? This year NIAB will collect data on a range of traits, for example height, heading date, ear and grain characters and yield, from all the lines in the large field trial, a process known as phenotyping. At the same time DNA samples will be scanned with thousands of molecular markers to produce a genotype for every MAGIC line.
A genetic map of MAGIC on which yield traits are placed on chromosomes with their locations defined by molecular markers can then be developed. This will provide a greater depth of information on traits, exceeding that available from simple two parent crosses, at a much improved chromosomal resolution, and will aid the transfer of specific traits into breeding programmes.
“NIAB TAG is focused on developing genetic potential and finding solutions to agronomy problems to enable UK farmers to achieve maximum yields in many different crop species. Our stand at the Cereals Event is a great opportunity to see the breadth and volume of our work along the crop development pipeline from pre-breeding initiatives, like the MAGIC project, right through to the field,” says Stuart Knight, Director of Crops and Agronomy at NIAB TAG.
"This includes championing the role of independent agronomic research in UK agriculture and providing expertise in crop protection and nutrition; farming systems; plant pathology research; spray application research; soils and cultivation and variety evaluation and management. Whatever the problem – we can help.”
The Genetics and Breeding team is also making the science behind plant breeding more accessible with a ‘kitchen experiment’ in the field. Visitors can have a go at being a plant scientist and extract some plant DNA using every-day kitchen utensils, some washing up-liquid, hot water, ice-cold meths and a little bit of elbow power.
This year visitors can view a range of winter oilseed rape varieties alongside the winter wheat demonstration plots, featuring the latest HGCA Recommended List varieties and candidates, and access the latest advice and recommendations from a team of variety specialists.
Black-grass and yellow rust are the main features in the Crops and Agronomy section. Explore a range of black-grass management techniques including the impact of winter wheat establishment and cultivation techniques and timings and of nozzle choice and water volume when spraying graminicides. Crop disease experts Bill Clark and Dr Rosemary Bayles will have the latest research and advice on yellow rust and the impact of the new ‘Warrior’ race.
A working spray boom and nozzle display will demonstrate the characteristics of a range of nozzle designs and how they perform in different spraying situations. The Silsoe Spray Applications Unit team will be available to help visitors with nozzle selection choice, with tips and advice on any application problems including keeping drift under control and getting spray onto difficult targets.
NIAB Innovation Farm, a unique initiative that highlights and promotes developments and innovation in plant genetics, is demonstrating hybridisation across a range of species.
“Hybrids are often associated with extra ‘vigour’ and increased yield,” says NIAB Innovation Farm’s Claire Pumfrey, “but they can also provide a novel route to crops that are better suited to lower inputs or coping with environmental stresses such as drought or high temperatures. In particular, intraspecific hybrids can give step changes such as unique processing properties or nutritional profiles.
“Our exhibit has examples of these new hybrids coming onto the market, showing both interspecific between species and intraspecific within species F1 hybrids.”
Nathan Morris will be revealing The Hole Story, by jumping into a hole in the ground to demonstrate the importance of maintaining a healthy soil and the methods farmers can adopt to influence soil structure to ensure optimum crop yields.
“A well structured soil can help water infiltration and aids moisture retention, increases soil aeration for root growth and biological function, improves the workability of the soil and reduces the energy required for cultivating the soil – saving time and fuel,” says Nathan.
Staying underground, roots may be the key to the future selection of new wheat varieties. Plant breeders are restricted to selecting new material by looking at the above-ground parts of the plant. Research work by NIAB could change that by providing breeders with the tools necessary to select better rooting types and will be demonstrated on the NIAB TAG stand at Cereals with a plot of Paragon spring wheat.
“If we can access the genes of major importance for rooting it may be possible to increase yields and develop varieties better adapted to drought or capable of better nutrient use efficiency,” says NIAB’s Steven Bentley. “We are developing new selection tools to select improved rooting types including a DNA-based method to rapidly measure roots in soil. We can then characterise the different types of rooting structures in wheat and identify the major genes affecting root growth.”
Other features available on the NIAB TAG stand include: