NIAB - National Institute of Agricultural Botany

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Contact: Dr Alison Bentley

From 2005-2010 the NIAB Trust invested £5 million to develop research in genetic resources, pre-breeding, crop genomics, wheat synthetics, association genetics, population development and high efficiency transgenic modification of wheat, barley and oilseed rape.

NIAB is well equipped with state-of-the-art laboratories for DNA analysis, genotyping, bioinformatics, tissue culture and plant transformation, set alongside a suite of controlled environment chambers. At the MacLeod Complex there are extensive modern, energy efficient glasshouses including containment units for GM plants. To support field activities in pre-breeding and variety testing, NIAB has 250 ha of trial grounds at its Cambridge site.

Dr Alison Bentley is Director of Genetics and Breeding with a group of 30 scientists working on the molecular genetics of cereals and other UK arable crops; a key part of these activities is a pre-breeding platform that generates genetic diversity and facilitates transfer of novel traits from public research to commercial breeders. Several current projects follow this theme.

As part of the BBSRC-funded Crop Science Initiative (BB/E006868/1), the group has exploited re-synthesised wheats (SHWs) developed in Mexico by CIMMYT, using a genomics-led strategy to introgress novel traits, particularly those that will provide yield stability under changing climatic conditions. Some of the best SHW-derived lines from this work have now passed into the breeding programmes of commercial partners.

NIAB also has funding through the BBSRC LOLA “Enhancing diversity in UK wheat through a public sector prebreeding programme” (BB/I002561/1) to develop extended novel diversity in wheat. This follows two strands, both leading to BC1-derived inbreds in UK-adapted backgrounds. Firstly, we will introduce D-genome variation through developing new novel SHWs which exploit Aegilops tauschii accessions not previously used by CIMMYT. Secondly, to introduce A- and B-genome diversity, we will make direct hexaploid/tetraploid crosses.  All recombinants will be inbred to BC1F5 before being released to the breeding community, and will also feed into the Wheat Institute Strategic Programme which follows on from the LOLA.

Most recently, NIAB has a FSOV-funded project “Integrating novel functional diversity for improved yield stability (INDYS)”, in collaboration with several French breeders, to develop SHW-derived inbreds with adaptation for French conditions.