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Big ears for British wheat


Scientists at the University of Nottingham are working with researchers in Mexico to develop new varieties of wheat that could combine the best characteristics of British and Mexican types to bring about a quantum leap in yield while increasing the sustainability of UK agriculture.

The researchers are collaborating with the International Centre for Wheat and Maize Improvement (CIMMYT), a relationship strengthened by a recent workshop in Mexico supported by the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC). With their CIMMYT colleagues the UK researchers will explore the characteristics of crossing novel Central American varieties of wheat that have bigger and more fertile ears with UK varieties that have smaller ears but higher capacities for photosynthesis.

The research team is using a range of techniques, including comparative genetics, developmental biology and plant physiology, to help them to understand what it is that results in the Mexican varieties having bigger ears. If they could successfully find a way to get UK varieties of wheat to grow with bigger ears then the yield of a crop could potentially be increased in a sustainable way without the need for extra water or fertilizer.

Professor Michael Holdsworth, Professor of Crop Science at the University of Nottingham, said, “We have evidence that UK wheat plants have the capability from photosynthesis to produce more material than they do at the moment but they are limited by the size of their ears. We hope that the research we are doing could lift these limitations and enable traditional crossing between lines so that breeders can produce wheat varieties that would thrive in the British climate but produce much higher yields.”

Professor Julia Goodfellow, Chief Executive of BBSRC, said, “Sustainable agriculture is a key aim of BBSRC. Research such as this shows how work on the fundamental physiology of a plant could identify the underlying causes of desirably traits, such as larger ears, that could help us to increase yields while reducing the environmental ‘footprint’ of agriculture.”

Matt Goode | alfa
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