There is an urgency to grow more food on less land with potentially fewer inputs, and in a more sustainable way, to support the rising demand for nutritious food from a burgeoning population. Wheat is a staple food for billions of resource-poor people, so increasing its genetic yield potential is an effective way to contribute to their food security. Furthermore, seed embedded technology is readily adopted even by the poorest farmers, with strong likelihood of significant gains in net income.
The main steps include; a) designing crosses to combine promising yield potential (YP) traits; b) conducting phenotyping and genotyping in panels of breeders’ elite material as well as diverse genetic resources to identify best sources of YP traits; c) validating new trait combinations through crossing, high throughput phenotyping & genotyping of progeny, and yield testing across target environments to both validate strategies, and share novel germplasm and protocols with breeders globally.
Superior wheat lines are distributed to ~100 collaborators from >50 countries each year, including national wheat programs and private seed companies. The material can be released directly, crossed with elite local varieties to broaden the genetic base of locally adapted material, and used in research to further understand and boost yield potential, therefore serving a range of stakeholder needs. The work has also provided a valuable training platform for students of plant breeding up to doctoral level.
Mission and Vision
In the area of genetic improvement, many ideas are published as solutions to raise crop yield potential without the necessary steps to demonstrate genetic gains. This results in a translational research bottleneck, that uncouples advances in plant science from its full potential for increasing crop productivity. Due in part to the restrictions in current funding models, relatively few scientists occupy the translational research space in which ideas for ‘yield boosting’ traits are rigorously tested. Therefore, lacking adequate proofs of concept, many potentially valuable technologies remain on the shelf. IWYP was designed to harness the most promising results from plant scientists and translate them into new higher yielding lines. The IWYP Hub serves as a platform where outputs from selected research projects from the top wheat research labs around the world (https://iwyp.org) are validated, compared side by-side, and translated into elite backgrounds for delivery to wheat breeders worldwide. This approach bridges research gaps from basic discovery to application in breeding via translational research, aiming to double the rate of genetic gain necessary to meet the increasing demands for wheat in the next decades. Since the initial focus has been on spring wheat, the main target beneficiaries are farmers in less developed countries where the majority of spring wheat is grown and comprises a staple food for billions of resource poor people.
For novel technologies to be applied in crop improvement, proofs of concept must be demonstrated in a breeding context. This necessarily involves translational research via pre-breeding that show genetic gains from new innovations, using up to date germplasm, across an appropriate range of target environments, and in genetic backgrounds that encompass the collateral traits needed to make new cultivars marketable. The IWYP Hub provides an appropriate platform for testing and translating novel traits into elite parents, facilitating the stacking of traits that would not be possible in individual research projects. Best lines are subsequently made available and validated by both public and private breeders through a network of partners and testing sites worldwide (IWIN, CIMMYT). These nurseries not only deliver new, genetically diverse germplasm to wheat breeders and crop researchers globally, but also contribute significant genetic gains in spring wheat, providing sources of novel alleles for yield potential and stress tolerance.
The IWYP Hub brings together ideas from an international network of plant experts who conduct research on different aspects of crop science, including photosynthesis, crop architecture, partitioning of assimilates to grain, crop development, and plant growth regulators. This generates a synergy of ideas and research technologies for application in physiological breeding. Some of the best trait sources have been exotic accessions from the World Wheat Collection housed at CIMMYT, while access to elite lines from CIMMYT’s wheat breeding program has permitted genetic gains to be achieved in backgrounds that also encompasses disease resistance and other economically important traits. The best new lines yield 7% over current CIMMYT checks averaged across international sites. The results also deliver a proof of concept –contrary to conventional wisdom- that use of relatively unadapted germplasm can deliver fast results through crossing and selection for specific physiological traits.
Planned Goals and Milestones
New innovations include: Genomic selection to increase breeding efficiency and the range of environments targeted; Speed breeding which is being employed to accelerate deployment when crossing parents that encompass both novel yield potential traits as well as the necessary disease resistance genes; New traits coming from research projects (https://iwyp.org) incorporated into the breeding pipeline, such as novel spectral reflectance indices and partitioning traits.