Breeders aim to cut time to develop wheat varieties

Wheat growers are set to benefit from a new £1.2m breeding facility in Berkshire, with improved varieties being commercially available up to three years earlier than when using traditional techniques.

The new doubled haploid production facility at Syngenta’s Jealott’s Hill site near Brackley adds to its other existing facility in Cambridgeshire, expanding capacity up to combined 355,000 lines a year.

“Last year we produced 80,000 lines and this year 130,000-140,000 will be produced from both sites to meet the growing requirement by our breeders,” said Paul Drayton, head of cell biology, at a briefing.

The breeding process starts with crossing two parents and by the second generation (F2), the offspring exhibit a large range of diversity. From these plants, breeders pick those exhibiting the desirable traits, being potential new varieties.

But these don’t produce uniform offspring and removing this diversity and achieving a homozygous (identical looking plants) inbred line is called line fixation. Under current techniques, line fixation involves self crossing the plant over six generations.

“In the field this would take six years, but with glass houses and cold rooms, you can cut this to about three years,” he said.

“However, with the double haploid method, you can achieve this within a single year,” Dr Drayton added.

The process starts by crossing wheat with maize which results in a haploid embryo (half the amount of DNA), as the maize DNA breaks down. Then chemicals are used to stimulate the cells to double up the DNA to become a doubled haploid.

Resulting seedlings are then vernalised (simulating winter so plants will flower) at 6C for two months in a cold room.

“At this stage, we sample tissue for DNA and use marker technology to identify plants with the genes of interest, such as resistance against a specific disease,” he added.

Farmer benefits

The main benefit is that varieties reach commercialisation two-three years earlier, said Dr Drayton, reducing the time to market.

His colleague Samantha Brooke, highlighted that the Group 1 milling wheat Gallant went through this process and took seven years to reach the market, three years earlier than in the past.

This shorter time also means breeders can respond more quickly to the market. “We can be more flexible in meeting grower needs such as changes in disease pressure.”

In the pipeline

Another potential milling variety coming out of the double haploid approach is milling candidate Cubanita. Mrs Brooke said that it was the highest-yielding bread maker on the HGCA candidate list at 102%.

“It currently looks like a Group 2, although has not been confirmed by NABIM testing,” she added.

The two years of data, which includes the poor season of 2012, shows high yields, especially in the West where it was 2% above KWS Santiago, thus effectively at the feed wheat level.

The variety has stiff straw and is short (84cm) and can be drilled early.

“What makes it stand out is the very high specific weight and in last year where specific weight were badly affected, it held up well at 79.8kg/hl,” she added.

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