Platform for innovation: Graingene designs crops of the future

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THE FUTURE of crop research, breeding and commercial development could look a lot like a unique partnership - involving CSIRO Plant Industry, the GRDC and two commercial partners - which is now hitting its stride and road-testing a ground-breaking model for rapidly delivering varietal improvements to the grain industry.

Graingene programs are applying an array of conventional breeding and biotechnology tools to efficiently develop technologies and genetic plant material - markers, genes and germplasm - for wheat quality, yield, disease and pest-resistance traits.

Areas under the microscope include robust grain size, improved phosphorus uptake and wateruse efficiency, increased early vigour, nematode and rust resistance, and the genetic basis of end-product quality (see related story this section).

"Through Graingene we want to create wheat varieties with desirable traits on an accelerated timeline," said GRDC Program Manager for Winter Cereals Improvement, Ross Gilmour.

The Graingene Research Committee, chaired by Dr Gilmour, developed the 'Gateway' model for bringing together the research outcomes, now identified as "Graingene traits" and introducing them into elite wheat varieties.

"Gateway is all about capturing the outputs of the other projects - whether it be markers, germplasm or knowledge - and developing enhanced gennplasm from which new varieties are developed, This program represents an essential linkage point - ensuring research outputs (e,g. traits) are actually implemented in relevant germplasm, as well as packaging the traits for use outside the laboratory.

"To the extent there are no penalties, we would like to package up many or all of these desirable traits into selected varieties," he said, Meanwhile varieties with single new traits, like water-use efficiency or early vigour, will be released.

The first Graingene 'drought-tolerant' wheat variety, DrysdalePBR logo was released last year (see related story p22). A second release is expected by the end of the year.

Integrated structure - "providing a delivery pathway"

Graingene has created a model for doing business that encapsulates a product focus, integration, a gateway out of the laboratory into the paddock and direct linkages with the market and commercial world," said Stephanie von Gavel, Executive Manager of Graingene.

"It is no longer a matter of : 'Oh look, I have an interesting gene, now what do I do with it?' -but rather Graingene is making sure that the science has somewhere to go. It is through this integration from research to product that real innovation will occur and make a difference for wheat growers.

"By having various parallel research programs and rapid breeding strategies, it creates enormous time efficiencies that you couldn't otherwise get with a step wise process,"

Dr Gilmour added, "This is a model which the GRDC would like to replicate across its portfolio - linking science, technology and adoption,"