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WISP - Enhancing diversity in UK wheat

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Contact: Dr Alison Bentley

Funded by the BBSRC, the LoLa WISP Wheat Pre-breeding Programme aims to increase the diversity of traits available in wheat via a comprehensive public sector wheat improvement initiative, the first of its kind in the UK for over 20 years.

The project is a collaboration between NIAB, the John Innes Centre, Rothamsted Research, the University of Bristol and the University of Nottingham. It will identify new and useful genetic variation from novel sources of wheat germplasm, and use it to accelerate the improvement of modern wheat varieties for the benefit of UK farming. Through international collaborations, this project should also contribute to global food security. This cross institutional programme will run from 2011 to 2017 and will produce new and novel wheat germplasm characterised for traits relevant to academics and breeders and will identify genetic markers for selecting these traits. The programme is structured around three complementary "pillars" (Landrace, Synthetics and Allien-introgression) each of which will broaden the pool of genetic variation in wheat by a different route. Two cross-linking themes, Genotyping and Phenotyping, provide the "Entablature" connecting the Pillars. A fourth pillar, which will involve the production of elite wheat cultivars will be resourced independently by private breeding companies.

WISPNIAB will deliver the ‘Synthetics Pillar’. Research at NIAB is focusing on extending the bread wheat gene pool by understanding, exploiting and incorporating novel genetic diversity from wild and cultivated relatives of bread wheat.There is much genetic diversity available within a very accessible gene pool that includes diploid goat grass (Aegilops tauschii) and tetraploid wheats such as wild and cultivated emmer wheat (Triticum dicoccoides and T. dicoccum) and durum or pasta wheat (T. turgidum).

To capture this diversity, tetraploid wheats are being crossed with UK bread wheat varieties. We are also generating novel Resynthesised Wheats (SHW) which recreate the rare hybridisation events between Ae. tauschii and T. durum that led to the development of bread wheat 10,000 years ago. Again, these will be crossed with bread wheat varieties to create UK-adapted ‘pre-breeding’ material which will be available for future work.

NIAB superwheat flyer