Wheat is the most widely cultivated crop in the world: Global Trends in Wheat Production, Consumption and Trade | SpringerLink. Wheat genetic research is an important tool in addressing the need to feed an increasing population under increasing land pressure and global warming.
There is a diverse range of wheat research currently undergoing experimental trials at Church Farm. For example, there are experiments aimed at improvement of wheat through understanding the genetics of many traits including yield, plant height, grain size, disease resistance, root architecture and the relationship of the root with soil microbes.
The John Innes Centre is part of a collaborative research programme Designing Future Wheat that aims to develop new wheat germplasm suited to sustainable and productive agriculture. Designing Future Wheat involves eight research institutes and universities, and much of the wheat experiments at Church Farm are linked to this programme.
Understanding Yield in wheat
Dr Simon Griffiths’ group looks at how yield is influenced by height and flowering time. A combination of specially designed apparatus and the use of drones is helping to collect data in the field to compare different varieties of wheat as part of a DEFRA funded project.
Dr Jay Biernaskie (Griffiths’ group) aims to answer the question; How can we produce more food on less land? His research is looking at how traits for co-operation may enable less dense crops that could lead to higher total crop yields.
Professor Cristobal Uauy’s group combines genetics and genomics approaches to identify genes involved in wheat productivity and grain quality: A wheat line has been developed which produces 20% larger grains. Field studies are underway to understand the relationship between increased grain size and yield.
Carmel O’Neil in Professor Steve Penfield’s group in collaboration with Dr Laura Dixon (University of Leeds) is using soil surface warming cables to increase the temperature of the soil around the growing plants to study the impact warming winters will have on wheat yield.
Improving quality of wheat
Dr Janneke Balk and Professor Cristobal Uauy have developed a wheat that has increased iron and zinc in the endosperm of the grain to help tackle deficiencies of these in our diet. James Simmons (Uauy Group) has been trialling this wheat at Church Farm.
James Brett (Griffiths’ group), as part of a collaboration with Rothamsted, is breeding wheat that makes white bread with high fibre which helps to reduce diabetes, obesity, and heart disease Scientists prove high fibre white loaf is possible
PhD student Rose McNelly in Dr David Seung’s group has been growing Aegilops taushii, an ancestor of modern wheat, to study the genes involved in starch granule formation. Results from this can then be used to study the comparable genes in wheat. Starch granule type and their ratio determine the qualities of the wheat grain and what it can be used for.
Dr Maria Hernandez-Soriano in Professor Tony Miller’s group is researching the rhizophere (the soil adjacent to the plant roots). Some varieties of wheat can absorb nutrients better than other varieties because of their relationship with microbes in the soil. Historical wheat cultivars are being grown to identify those with useful root traits. Maria is leading a project called WISH-ROOTS; Wheat roots in soil health | John Innes Centre (jic.ac.uk)