Global wheat yield quest gathers momentum

The International Wheat Yield Partnership (IWYP) has reported positive early findings in the ambitious project to raise wheat’s genetic yield potential by up to 50 per cent over the next 20 years through improved photosynthesis.

In 2015, eight projects got under way following the first round of IWYP funding. Included were five projects that are either led by Australian researchers or draw heavily on Australian input. These projects receive financial support from the GRDC.

Early findings, along with operating arrangements, were the subject of the IWYP’s first annual conference, held in March at the Norman E. Borlaug Experiment Station near Ciudad Obregon, Mexico. About 35 specialists from nearly 20 public and private organisations in the Americas, Europe, Oceania and southern Asia took part.

Participants reported evidence that increased photosynthesis – through high biomass, improvements in photosynthetic efficiency and improved plant architecture – can help make wheat more productive.

IWYP program director Dr Jeff Gwyn said the aim of the conference was for program participants to learn about everyone else’s work and to integrate efforts to realise and add value.

“Upgrading wheat productivity is a bit like building a race car,” he explained. “One person is working on the tyres and suspension, another team is putting together the motor, and someone else is designing and assembling the interiors. Instead of working in isolation, the idea is to help everyone coordinate to make sure the pieces fit and function together at high performance when the car is finished.”

Rather than car parts, the international teams are finding and using traits and genes that enhance photosynthesis and increase its efficiency, boost spike development, optimise wheat’s canopy architecture, and increase wheat’s biomass and harvest index (the ratio of grain to other plant parts).

In addition, the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (CIMMYT) is partnering with the IWYP to lead the development hub that will deliver research findings and outputs to breeding programs.

Dr Gwyn said private-sector experts provided valuable strategic guidance, helped with delivery and could carry out projects if they chose. “Their participation is helping to keep IWYP relevant and they gain early insights on results,” said Dr Gwyn, who was previously vice-president of breeding and genomics at Ceres Inc and head of soy trait integration at Syngenta.

Overall, he was excited by conference participants’ enthusiasm and commitment. “Everyone embraced this unique opportunity to link and do things together from the start,” Dr Gwyn said. “They really took control and started bringing the IWYP vision to fruition, with minimal encouragement.” 


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GRDC Project Code ICY90, ICY88

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