'Super' stresstolerant wheats outcome of new alliance by Maria Taylor

Tractor in the field

AN INTERNATIONAL crop-breeding alliance of major value to Australia's grain industry continued to take shape with the recent visit to this country by the Director General of the International Maize and Wheat Breeding Centre (CIMMYT).

CIMMYT's Masa Iwanaga, accompanied by Executive Research Officer Peter Ninnes, met with managers of the GRDC to map out investment and manage-ment details of the alliance.

This follows a visit earl ier this year to CIMMYT's headquarters in Mexico by GRDC Chairman, Terry Enright, and GRDC Executive Manager Program Operations, John Harvey.

Mr Enright, a WA graingrower, said the strategic alliance is shaping up as a big plus for the Australian grain industry. "We are working with a promising range of new wheat varieties being tested in Mexico that are drought- and frost-tolerant and diseaseresistant. The alliance should also open significant new training opportunities for Australian scientists at CIMMYT."

CIMMYT is one of 16 public and internationally funded research and training 'future harvest centres' that develop genetic plant material (gennplasm) for a wide range of crops and provide breeding stock to agricu ltural institutions worldwide. The centres encourage collaborative exchange for the benefit of all countries.

During the late 1990s about 62 per cent of the area planted to wheat in developing countries was planted to CIMMYT-related varieties. A recent report released by CIMMYT, entitled Impacts of International Wheat Breeding Research in Developing Countries 1966- 97, estimates that, for a total investment of US$lOO- ISO million per year, the international wheatbreeding effort returns annual benefits of US$I.6 billion or more.

Mr Enright said Australia graingrowers have benefited considerably over the years from the scientific research at CIMMYT. CIMMT stock facilitated the development of rust resistance in cereals. "More recently, CIMMYT's development of semi-dwarf wheat varieties not only led to the so-called 'Green Revolution' in developing countries , but also allowed our industry to significantly increase wheat yields."

Of particular interest now is CIMMYT's work on developing 'synthetic wheats' which have built-in resistance to disease and environmental stresses. Commercial varieties are crossed with 'wild relatives' - grasses in the case of wheat - to come up with a wheat line with the desired traits.

Mr Harvey said that a high priority under the alliance is the development of varieties resistant to Kamal bunt, a seed-borne disease of wheat, which can have a major impact on Australia's export market. The disease is not in this country at present but development has progressed to a stage where Australian breeders should have resistant varieties available in the short term.

"We are also developing synthetic wheat crosses with Australian commercial varieties that are able to withstand environmental stresses - drought, heat and frost. The aim is a suite of 'super' stresstolerant wheats adapted to Australian growing conditions; ' he said.

Work is also progressing on multiple root-disease-resistant varieties, a first for Australia where research has traditionally focused on defending against one disease at a time within varieties.

The new strategic initiative strengthens Australia's collaboration with CIMMYT and develops a management framework for collaboration. "Up till now, the relationship between the Australian wheat-breeding programs and CIMMYT was through individual arrangements at the researcher or plant breeder level," said Mr Enright.

"We are working on a more focused relationship, where the GRDC will invest in certain programs under joint management that will benefit not only Australian growers but also farmers in developing countries."

Contact: Mr John Harvey, GROC 026272 5525

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