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NEWS: NIAB superwheat expertise to aid India wheat breeding

27 November 2014

NIAB’s UK superwheat research could soon be helping improve the heat tolerance of wheat crops in India.

Researchers from NIAB, India’s Punjab Agricultural University (PAU) and the National Agri-Food Biotechnology Institute (NABI) are collaborating on a £1 million project, codenamed SHWheat, to combine NIAB’s expertise in wheat pre-breeding technologies with research strengths in India.

The project is part of a £10 million research collaboration with India to provide crops suitable for a changing climate and to produce more food with fewer inputs. Seven projects have been jointly funded by the UK’s Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC) and India’s Department of Biotechnology (DBT) under the ‘Crop Genomics and Technologies’ (CGAT) call. The UK project funding for SHWheat includes £510,000 from BBSRC and £127,000 from other sources.Dr James Cockram

Programme Leader Dr James Cockram explains that NIAB’s work on improving the genetic diversity of the UK crop through the development of resynthesised wheat - created by crossing durum wheat with a wild goatgrass - will be used to help search for new sources of drought and heat tolerance. These will then be integrated into local breeding programmes.

Globally, a relatively narrow genetic base hampers wheat improvement by reducing its ability to adapt to biotic and abiotic stresses. The recent development of breeding strategies incorporating genomics and pre-breeding approaches has seen increases in UK wheat yields, and the potential for genetic improvement in crops in the developing world is considerable.

NIAB’s Research Director Professor Andy Greenland says: “Heat stress is a major limit to yield potential in Indian wheat, and is also predicted to become increasingly relevant to UK production given climate change scenarios, so this research will have relevance in both countries.”

The SHWheat project will create a multi-parent population using resynthesised wheat specifically selected for heat tolerance, and apply wheat genomics tools to genetically characterise these traits. As in the UK, these heat tolerance traits will then be made available to Indian wheat breeders for integration into current breeding programmes.

“This is a great opportunity for UK and Indian colleagues working on wheat research and pre-breeding to share complementary research and expertise.  The inclusion of two PhD studentships within the project will also help train new Indian scientists in the globally important area of crop research and food security,” finishes Dr Cockram.

NIAB Superwheat

Resynthesised wheat crossing process

NIAB’s flagship wheat re-synthesis programme recreates the original rare hybridisation events that happened in the Middle East 10,000 years ago between an ancient wheat and wild grass species. This original crossing provides the genetic basis for today’s modern wheat (Triticum aestivum) varieties.

Resynthesised wheat (also called Synthetic Hexaploid Wheat, or SHWs), created by crossing durum (pasta) wheat with a wild goatgrass, are fully crossable with modern wheats, and are an excellent bridge for transferring useful genetic diversity from wild relatives into modern UK wheat. By crossing resynthesised wheat into UK varieties, NIAB has generated wheat lines with improved agronomic performance. Termed ‘Superwheat’, these lines are now being assessed commercially in conjunction with UK wheat breeding companies.

BBSRC-BBR project details - UK and India collaborate on future-proof crops


SHWheat - A genomics-assisted synthetic hexaploid wheat gene isolation and pre-breeding platform for improved heat tolerance and sustainable production

  • UK investigators: Prof. Greenland and Dr James Cockram, National Institute of Agricultural Botany
  • Indian investigators: Dr Satinder Kaur, Punjab Agricultural University.


The other BBSRC-BBR funded projects are:

Rapid identification of disease resistance genes from plant genomes by resistance gene enrichment sequencing (RenSeq) of EMS-derived susceptible mutants

  • UK investigator: Dr Brande B.H. Wulff, The Sainsbury Laboratory, University of East Anglia
  • Indian investigator: Dr Parveen Chhuneja, Punjab Agricultural University


Developing genetics and genomics interface to develop strategies for sustainable use of resistance to white rust in oilseed mustard (Brassica juncea)

  • UK investigator: Prof Eric Holub, University of Warwick
  • Indian investigator: Dr Deepak Pental, Univ. of Delhi


Combining field phenotyping and next generation genetics to uncover markers, genes and biology underlying drought tolerance in wheat

  • UK investigator: Dr Anthony Hall, University of Liverpool, UK
  • Indian investigator: Dr. Pradeep Sharma, Crop Improvement (Plant Biotechnology), Directorate of Wheat Research (ICAR), Karnal.

Genomics-assisted selection of Solanum chilense introgression lines for enhancing drought resistance in tomatoes

  • UK investigator: Dr Andrew Thompson, Cranfield University
  • Indian investigator: Dr H.C. Prasanna, Indian Instt. Of Vegetable Research, Varanasi


Broadening the genetic diversity underpinning seed quality and yield traits in mustard rape and oilseed rape

  • UK investigator: Dr Ian Bancroft, University of York
  • Indian investigator: Dr Akshay Pradhan, Delhi Univ., South Campus       


Detoxed grass pea: sustainable sustenance for stressful environments

  • UK investigator: Dr Cathie Martin, John Innes Centre (JIC)
  • Indian investigator: Dr Jayanta Tarafdar, Bidhan Chandra Krishi Vishwavidyalaya, West Bengal