Farming wheat productively into the future will be essential for food security. The search is on for better plant material and genetic tools to enable wheat breeders to come up with varieties that will do the job.
|Australian and Indian deep-roots scientists inspecting trial wheat|
The Indo-Australian Program on Marker Assisted Wheat Breeding (IAP MAWB) has been running since 2007 and is co-funded between India (Indian Council of Agricultural Research, ICAR) and Australia (ACIAR). It is being led by the University of Sydney and CSIRO in Australia, and the Directorate of Wheat Research in India.
Important wheat characteristics, such as resistance to devastating rust diseases,water-use efficiency for dry climates and tolerance to water-logging are being analysed simultaneously in both countries. The researchers are also on the lookout for improved grain-processing qualities to enable production of superior products like bread and Indian chapatis.
Dr Swapan Kumar Datta, Deputy Director General (Crop Science) of ICAR says: "This joint research project has made significant contributions to built-in plant protection by using marker-assisted selection with rust resistance genes pyramided combining yield improvement."
|Researchers from India and Australia at the IAP MAWB |
Phase 2 Inception Workshop
"I am confident the second phase will address the sustainable and durable rust resistance along with quality and yield improvement, which will benefit Australia and India and the global wheat-improvement program. Importantly, farmers will benefit the most," said Dr Datta.
Tools of the trade
The research is producing invaluable tools for wheat breeders in both countries. These include elite germplasm and selectable genetic markers for key traits.
|Project team discusses colour codes for genes identified through markers|
at the Directorate of Wheat Research, Karnal
Also, plants producing long coleoptiles (the protective sheath covering the emerging shoot) offer potential for seeds to be planted deeper in the ground, where they can access deeper soil moisture. Genetic sources of deep-rooted wheat have also been identified, again providing new potential for tapping into deeper soil moisture and producing more stable and secure crops.
|Coring for wheat roots in India (left) and an Australian soil core with roots (right)|
The power of information
Extensive information is being collated and analysed on the growth patterns of numerous wheat varieties under different trial conditions, including biotic stresses (attack by pests and disease agents), waterlogged soils and high salinity.
|The wheat rust research team (left) and wheat root field trials (right)|
The program will use the Integrated Breeding Platform (a state-of-the-art database developed by the Generation Challenge Program of the CGIAR) to manage and analyse data covering all the varieties’ agronomic performance, pedigree and their genetic composition. Having access to these data and analyses will give wheat breeders the upper hand to rapidly develop useful wheat varieties for a range of conditions.
The IAP MAWB has also played a major role in building capacity of young scientists. One such scientist is Rikita Chowdhary, awarded a John Allwright Fellowship in 2013 for a PhD project between the University of Sydney and CSIRO Plant Industry in Canberra, Australia. Her PhD research is on “Adaptation of wheat to earlier sowing in India to increase water-use efficiency and yield”.
|Rikita in action at CSIRO|
"Most importantly, I have learned about the value of my research which is important for farmers' fields, not only for India or Australia. It will help all those wheat-growing parts of the world, mainly those facing heat stress and water limitations at important stages of the wheat life cycle from germination to grain yield," said Rikita.
Senior scientists in the program developed a mentoring session to guide research fellows, including Rikita, in their research methodology and career pathways. A large number of Indian scientists have also been trained to identify molecular markers for rust resistance.
“The enthusiasm and engagement of the people involved has been a real feature of this program,” says Dr Eric Huttner, manager of ACIAR's Crop Improvement and Management program.
“There is no doubt this collaboration will bring huge benefits to both the Indian and Australian wheat industry in years to come. Australian and Indian breeders are certainly showing keen interest in the work,” Dr Huttner said.
|Dr Indu Sharma (right) with members of the wheat rust team|
Dr Indu Sharma, Project Director, Directorate of Wheat Research- Karnal, totally agrees.
"I am pleased to see the first phase of Indo-Australian partnership has culminated in an extended collaboration. The IAP MAWB program will ensure profitability for wheat farmers in India and Australia," Dr Indu said.
The future looks bright for wheat research.
By Dr Wendy Henderson (ACIAR Communications) and Simrat Labana (Assistant Manager, South Asia office)
CIM/2013/009 Molecular marker technologies for faster wheat breeding in India 2.
CIM/2013/011 Indo-Australian project on root and establishment traits for greater water use efficiency in wheat 2.
CIM/2007/084 Molecular markers for broadening the genetic base of stem rust resistance genes effective against strain Ug99.
Newspaper article (The Tribune, India): India, Oz join forces to produce rust-free wheat