'Superwheat' could boost yields by 30%

Tuesday 14 May 2013 09:42

UK wheat yields could be boosted by up to 30% with the introduction of a new "synthetic superwheat".

The National Institute of Agricultural Botany (NIAB) in Cambridge has recreated the original cross between an ancient wheat and wild grass species which, when crossed with modern UK varieties, could offer yield improvement, drought tolerance and disease resistance.

Senior plant breeder Dr Phil Howell says it's a big step forward in plant breeding and could be on-farm by 2019.

"Based on early-stage trials, we're confident the performance gains and level of potentially valuable variation observed through this novel step of resynthesising the original wheat plant points to a major transformation in the wheat improvement process," he says.

NIAB's CEO Dr Tina Barsby highlights how the domestication of the original ancient cross has eroded wheat diversity and the possibilities for improvement from within the current wheat germplasm are reaching their limit.

"NIAB's synthetic hexaploid wheat breeding programme recaptures some of that variation from those ancient wild relatives lost during the domestication of wheat as agriculture evolved.

"Fully crossable with modern wheat, these synthetic wheats are an excellent bridge for transferring novel sources of genetic diversity from wild relatives into varieties already grown by farmers across the UK," she explains.

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