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Material Helps Breed Locally-Adapted Wheat

04 October 2011

AUSTRALIA - Australian wheat breeders have been presented with a smorgasbord of genetic material which will allow them to breed new varieties with flowering times specifically adapted to different production areas.

They will use the material to breed wheat varieties which produce the maximum amount of grain, and flower at the ideal time to avoid stresses including drought, heat and frost, which can reduce yields.

The genetic material â€" a series of wheat lines identical except for genes influencing flowering - has been produced by CSIRO Plant Industry, under a Grains Research and Development Corporation (GRDC) funded project.

The research was presented by project leader Ben Trevaskis, of CSIRO, at Perth's recent Wheat Breeding Assembly, supported by the GRDC.

Dr Trevaskis said the new wheat lines were being evaluated by the CSIRO this year in field trials at locations including Merredin.

The lines were expected to be used in Australian wheat breeding programs from next year.

"The value of these wheat lines is potentially enormous," he said.

"It is a set of material which will allow breeders to optimise flowering behaviour and yields for different environments."

"We have not previously hit upon the best genes to use across different Australian environments."

Dr Trevaskis said the material would also allow breeders to plan ahead for changing environmental conditions expected to be caused by climate change.

"For example, the frost window in some areas is expected to recede, in the long term, by as much as six weeks," he said.

"Using this new genetic material, plant breeders can plan ahead for these expected changes."

Dr Trevaskis said the new wheat lines contained dozens of different versions of the genes which influence flowering time through the plant's response to day length and vernalisation (cold weather during winter).

Day length and the cold of winter are two of the main factors which influence flowering time.

"We examined thousands of wheat varieties from around the world to identify different versions (alleles) of the VRN1 gene, which controls the plant's response to vernalisation, and the PPD1 gene, which controls day length responses," Dr Trevaskis said.

"We selected versions of each gene that will cause different flowering behaviours and then incorporated them into the Australian wheat variety Sunstate, commonly used in Australian breeding programs."

Dr Trevaskis said the research project made use of diagnostic DNA technologies that allow researchers to rapidly screen for variation in material used in local or international breeding programs, and in older races of wheat.

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