Research student profile: Babar Manzoor Atta

Project title

The basis of improved water use efficiency in hexaploid wheat

Project overview

Limited water availability is hindering crop production on an enormous scale across the globe. In Australia, wheat is mainly grown under rainfed conditions with low and uncertain rainfall, resulting in variable crop production figures across the years. Increased crop water-use-efficiency (WUE) may result in enhanced crop yield with existing land and water resources. Breeding for water saving genotypes is important in both irrigated and dryland agriculture. The work on WUE is limited by lack of standard protocols and the difficulty of measurement under field conditions.

My PhD project aims to understand the basis of improved water use efficiency in well adapted and genetically diverse wheat germplasm and to gain insight into trait constellations responsible for improved performance under reduced moisture conditions. This project will evaluate a selected set of genetically diverse wheat germplasm for WUE, morphological and physiological traits, and yield under high and low moisture conditions both in the field and controlled environments. Root studies will explain the relationship between WUE and below ground plant traits. To assess their response, neutron probe moisture measurements will be made on individual genotypes in high and low moisture conditions in the field. The best performing genotypes and the key traits involved in higher WUE will be identified.

My project also explores genetic association mapping in a commercial wheat breeding program to identify genomic regions linked to improved WUE and other traits of agronomic interest including grain yield. Diversity array technology (DArT) markers, that cover the whole wheat genome, will be used to genotype the parents and advanced lines. Agronomic performance data from multi-environment trials will be used to identify regions of the genome conserved through empirical selection for yield in the target environment. These regions may be important in conferring adaptation to local environments over the years.

The information obtained will help understand the basis of improved WUE, and assist breeders in wheat improvement under water deficit environments.


I am an international postgraduate student from Pakistan. I completed my B.Sc. (Hons) and M.Sc.(Hons) in Plant Breeding & Genetics at the University of Agriculture, Faisalabad in 1994 and 1996 respectively. During my B.Sc (Hons) studies I was awarded a merit scholarship from 1991-1994. I was also honored with the INFAQ fellowship during M.Sc (Hons) from 1994-1996 and secured 1st position in M.Sc. (Hons) in the department of Plant Breeding and Genetics at the University of Agriculture, Faisalabad, Pakistan.

Regarding plant genetic diversity, I attended a training course, ‘Collection and Conservation of Plant Genetic Resources in Afghanistan’ at PGRI/PARC, Islamabad from 20-30 October during 1997 organized by IPGRI, ICARDA and FAO.

I joined the Nuclear Institute for Agriculture and Biology (NIAB), Faisalabad, Pakistan in 2000 as Junior Scientist and was promoted to senior scientist in the year 2002. I was associated with Rice improvement program till April 2001 and since then with the chickpea improvement program. Genetic variability is vital for the successful development of new cultivars. Enormous wealth of genetic variability both in desi and kabuli chickpea has been created through the use of induced mutation and conventional techniques in a number of chickpea varieties/lines. As a team member I contributed in the development of a new kabuli chickpea variety CM2008. In addition, many advanced mutant/recombinant lines of both desi and kabuli chickpea are in the pre-release testing stages and some are strong candidates for approval as a variety.

I was associated with the wheat improvement programme at NIAB for the last four years, during which time I screened wheat genotypes (local & exotic) for agronomic water-use efficiency (WUE), carbon isotope discrimination (Δ) and yield components. As a team member, I was also associated with one IAEA coordinated research project and two local research projects.

During my job I delivered numerous research seminars and attended a number of workshops and training courses. I also participated in an FAO/IAEA Interregional Training Course on Mutant Germplasm Characterisation Using Molecular Markers at Vienna, Austria in 2007.

I have been granted EIPRS and IPA scholarships and I am pursuing PhD studies in the field of Plant Breeding and Genetics at the University of Sydney since July 2009. Training packages completed during the first semester of my studies include Quarantine awareness, Quarantine approved premises for accredited persons (Classes 2 to 9) and the safe use of neutron probe soil moisture gauges.


I have published more than 50 papers; some of them are as follows

  • H. Ali, T. M. Shah, N. Iqbal, B. M. Atta and M. A. Haq. 2010. Mutagenic induction of double-podding trait in different genotypes of chickpea and their characterization by STMS marker. Plant Breeding, 129: 116-119. (Germany)
  • B. M. Atta, T. M. Shah, G. Abbas and M. A. Haq. 2009. Genotype x environment interaction for seed yield in kabuli chickpea (Cicer arietinum L.) genotypes developed through mutation breeding. Pak. J. Bot., 41(4): 1883-1890.
  • A. Hameed, T. M. Shah, B. M. Atta, N. Iqbal, M. A. Haq and H. Ali. 2009. Comparative seed storage protein profiling of kabuli chickpea genotypes. Pak. J. Bot., 41(2): 703-710.
  • K. P. Akhtar, T. M. Shah, B. M. Atta, M. Dickinson, J. Hodgetts, R. A. Khan, M. A. Haq and S. Hameed. 2009. Symptomatology, etiology and transmission of chickpea phyllody disease in Pakistan. J. Plant Pathology, 91 (3): 649-653. (Italy)
  • B. M. Atta and T. M. Shah. 2009. Stability analysis of elite chickpea genotypes tested under diverse environments. Aust. J. Crop Sci., 3(5): 249-256.
  • B. M. Atta, M. A. Haq and T. M. Shah. 2008. Variation and inter-relationships of quantitative traits in chickpea (Cicer arietinum L.). Pak. J. Bot., 40(2): 637-647.
  • T. M. Shah, J. I. Mirza, M. A. Haq and B. M. Atta. 2008. Induced genetic variability in chickpea (Cicer arietinum L.). II. Comparative mutagenic effectiveness and efficiency of physical and chemical mutagens. Pak. J. Bot., 40(2): 605-613.
  • K. P. Akhtar, T. M. Shah, B. M. Atta, M. Dickinson, F. F. Jamil, M. A. Haq, S. Hameed and M.J. Iqbal. 2008. Natural occurrence of phytoplasma associated with chickpea phyllody disease in Pakistan - a new record. Plant Pathology, 57: 771. (UK). DOI: 10.1111/j.1365-3059.2007.01800.x
  • Y. Ali, B. M. Atta, J. Akhter, P. Monneveux and Z. Lateef. 2008. Genetic variability, association and diversity studies in wheat (Triticum aestivum L.) germplasm. Pak. J. Bot. 40(5): 2087-2097.
  • B. M. Atta, M. A. Haq, T. M. Shah, S. S. Alam, H. Ali and K. P. Akhtar. 2006. Chickpea germplasm screening for resistance against Ascochyta blight. Caderno de Pesquisa Se´r. Bio., Santa Cruz do Sul, 18(2): 137-150. (Brazil)
  • M. Hassan, B. M. Atta, T. M. Shah, M. A. Haq, H. Syed and S. S. Alam. 2005. Correlation and path coefficient studies in induced mutants of chickpea (Cicer arietinum L.). Pak. J. Bot., 37(2): 293-298.
  • M. Y. Saleem, B. M. Atta, A. A. Cheema and M. A. Haq. 2005. Genetics of panicle-related traits of agronomic importance in rice through triple test cross analysis. Spanish J. Agri. Res. 3(4): 402-409.
  • B. M. Atta, M. A. Haq, T. M. Shah, M. Sadiq, M. Hassan, and H. Syed. 2003. Induced Flower color mutations in chickpea. International Chickpea and Pigeonpea Newsletter 10, 6-7.
  • A. A. Cheema and B. M. Atta. 2003. Radiosensitivity studies in Basmati rice. Pak. J. Bot. 35(2): 197-207.



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