Global genetics funnelled into improved crop varieties

Photo of Mike Ewing

An international alliance to advance wheat breeding – known as CAIGE – may not be high in the consciousness of Australian grain growers, but it is delivering benefits by helping to deliver new varieties with better yields.

The collaboration between the Grains Research and Development Corporation (GRDC) and two key international agricultural research centres provides hundreds of international wheat lines for field tests in Australia.

CAIGE is the CIMMYT-Australia-ICARDA Germplasm Evaluation Program, which enables wheat germplasm to be imported under agreements with the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (CIMMYT) and the International Center for Agricultural Research in the Dry Areas (ICARDA).

The elite genetic material, sourced from CIMMYT and ICARDA’s scanning of global diversity in wheat’s genetic material, is fast-tracked into Australia’s commercial gene pool as advanced breeding lines, targeting yield, disease resistance and stress tolerance.

A suite of research projects conducted under CAIGE ensures that Australian plant breeders have long-term, targeted access to this international germplasm and also benefits poor farmers in the developing world.

Australian growers will not always be aware of the impact of CAIGE because it is rare for a line to be directly adopted.

More commonly, the imported material will become a parent in the cross breeding programs of Australia’s commercial wheat breeding programs.

The eventual impact on growers is through increased wheat crop yields – perhaps achieved by tolerance to a stress such as drought, or through the prevention of exposure to exotic diseases already present in other countries but yet to arrive in Australia.

Material sourced via CAIGE - coordinated by Professor Richard Trethowan, director of the Plant Breeding Institute in Narrabri, NSW - includes resistance to known international rust threats like Ug99.

By identifying the threat in advance and introducing a source of resistance, a catastrophe could be avoided if and when the disease arrives in Australia.

Participating plant breeders visit each other’s countries to inspect trial sites.

Breeding lines sourced through CAIGE are grown alongside local varieties in Australian environments, including at sites located across the WA grainbelt, to allow for differences in environmental conditions and seasonal risks. Meeting quarantine requirements and multiplying seed to allow for this multi-site sowing is a major logistical activity.

ENDS

PHOTO CAPTION: Mike Ewing.

Region West