Improving genetic resources for wheat breeding
The Earlham Institute has made major contributions to understanding the wheat genome and is leading research efforts to improve a crop vital for global food security.
Wheat provides more global calories than any other crop, yet has historically lagged behind in genetic resources due to its large and complex genome.
The Earlham Institute was an integral part of the international effort to deliver the first full bread wheat genome, decoding this hexaploid crop from sequence to assembly and annotation.
Bioinformaticians at the Institute have mapped the wheat epigenome and begun to understand the effects of introducing genetic variation from wild relatives.
Since sequencing 14 of the 21 chromosomes of bread wheat - and generating all of the first assemblies as part of that first effort in 2014 - our scientists are now part of ambitious UK and international collaborations, such as the International Wheat Genome Sequencing Consortium (IWGSC), International Wheat Yield Improvement Partnership (IWYP), Designing Future Wheat (DFW), 10+ Wheat Genomes and the Hybrid Wheat Initiative.
In both the UK and globally, this work is supporting ongoing annual increases in wheat productivity and reducing the impact of disease outbreaks, with an estimated impact of £7.4m to the UK economy and £240m to the rest of the world over the next 10 years. The global impact is projected to rise to an estimated £1.5bn over the next 25 years.
All of the work described here has been a huge collaborative effort alongside a number of important partners, both in the UK and worldwide.
Novel methods developed by Dr Hannah Rees allow us to accurately measure circadian rhythms in brassicas and wheat for the first time
Earlham Institute researchers contribute to the publication in Nature of the fruits of the 10+ Wheat Genomes Project to map a global atlas of wheat diversity
As a result of impactful meetings at EI Innovate in 2020, the Earlham Institute launches the Hybrid Wheat Initiative to tackle the “holy grail” of wheat breeding
Researchers of the Anthony Hall Group use whole genome sequencing to better understand introgression between wheat and wild relatives in collaboration with Kansas State University and the University of Nottingham as part of DFW.
The Earlham Institute’s future work will aim to address a number of important challenges, particularly around how we deal with the large amounts of genomics data generated in these collaborative efforts. In particular, the Institute will use its data-intensive bioscience expertise and work with others to find ways of making the data available in a useful way for both wheat researchers and breeders.
The Institute will continue to play a central role in global initiatives, such as the International Wheat Yield Partnership (IWYP), the Wheat Initiative, and Designing Sustainable Wheat - the next phase of the DFW partnership. Together, this work will help link the research community, breeders, public and private funders, and policymakers together.
It will also provide more equitable access to information, resources, and technologies, as well as securing long-term investments to meet wheat research and development goals.
Wheat is a staple of the human diet and the leading source of vegetable protein. It is the second most-produced cereal in the world with an estimated yearly production of 750 million tonnes, which is predicted to increase throughout the 21st century.
Though great success has been enjoyed in increasing yield since the Green Revolution in the 1960s, the rate of yield increase has been in decline since the 1990s. Climate change adds another dimension, threatening further progress. That’s why publicly-funded science, working closely with industry, is vital to help cement a sustainable future for wheat.