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Innovation boosts wheat production in India

29 August 2016
Working together to improve current wheat production yields

Sydney, India, Pakistan and the UK collaborate on international innovative hybrid wheat strain to feed large populations.

The University of Sydney is partnering with India, Pakistan and the UK in a project that uses an innovative hybrid wheat system that is superior to anything developed before.

The project involves the Indian Agricultural Research Institute, the University of Agriculture Faisalabad and the UK agriculture group KWS. It builds on an ingenious male sterility system, the key element in hybrid seed production, which has been developed over the past 30 years.

Australian researchers at the University of Sydney and Grain Crops Institute are world experts in their fields of science and KWS provides state of the art molecular laboratory facilities. The project is funded through Innovate UK.

Professor Richard Trethowan, Director of the University’s IA Watson Grains Research Centre, said: “On-farm yields of maize, soybean and lately rice have all benefited from the introduction of hybrids. When two inbred lines are crossed, a more vigorous strain is produced.

“But due to problems with seed production, wheat hybrids have never been commercially viable despite yield gains of 10-15 per cent and increased yield stability, which is vital in a warming and more variable climate.”

For hundreds of millions of people in India, wheat is an essential part of their daily diet and their major source of calories. India relies on its wheat crop to feed its huge rural and urban poor population; increased wheat production is a key food production goal on the sub-continent.

But since the Green Revolution the yield increase from wheat crops has slowed and new approaches are urgently needed to regain traction and boost wheat production.

Professor Trethowan notes, “Essential to the success of project is the Indian breeders’ invaluable local knowledge of wheat, the environment and markets.

“Currently, almost all Indian wheat varieties originate from public breeding programs, so the only way to make an impact is through these organisations.”

Sydney researchers are working with Indian partners on several other projects to improve wheat production in India involving a variety of ideas: the use of molecular marker technologies to develop new strains; optimisation of the crop canopy to assist grain growth; and the development of new strains carrying genes from related species of grain.

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