Australian researchers take on G20 challenge to make energy efficient wheat

12 November 2015

A team of Australian researchers will contribute to a G20 nations plan to strengthen future, global food security by making more energy efficient wheat.

According to The Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations global crop yields must double by 2050 to meet future food security needs. To address this need Agriculture Ministers of the G20 nations have established the International Wheat Yield Partnership (IWYP); a unique, international funding initiative to co-ordinate worldwide wheat research efforts.

A team of Australian scientists have been selected to address a key component of a global future food security solution by increasing the energy efficiency of wheat. This forms part of IWYP's plan to raise the genetic yield potential of wheat by up to 50%.

Globally, wheat is one of the most important staple crops, providing a fifth of daily calories.

Through a novel approach that combines cutting edge molecular techniques with traditional breeding the team of researchers from the Australian Research Council Centre of Excellence in Plant Energy Biology, the ARC Centre of Excellence for Translational Photosynthesis and the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Centre (CIMMYT), in Mexico, will exploit the energy systems of wheat plants to dramatically improve their yield.

"The approach will identify new opportunities for wheat improvement through selective breeding for energy use efficiency," says Project Lead Professor Barry Pogson from the ARC Centre of Excellence in Plant Energy Biology.

Professor Harvey Millar, a Principal Investigator on the project from the ARC Centre of Excellence in Plant Energy Biology, says "our preliminary data demonstrates that there is untapped genetic variation in the energy use efficiency of wheat. This means we can fine-tune and optimise growth, which will have a positive impact on wheat yield."

The three year project will see wheat improvement through energy use efficiency tackled at the cell, tissue and whole plant level.

"More than 85% of the energy captured by plants is used in cell activities, some futile, meaning that only a very small amount of plant energy is realised as yield," says Principal Investigator Professor Owen Atkin, from the ARC Centre of Excellence in Plant Energy Biology.

"Improving the ways in which energy is used and distributed within wheat plants has the potential to significantly increase their growth and crop yield".

The project will combine genetics, gene expression and growth studies with the high throughput analysis of photosynthesis and respiration in order to screen elite wheat germplasm from field trials in Australia and Mexico.

Professor Robert Furbank, a Principal Investigator on the project from the ARC Centre of Excellence in Translational Photosynthesis, says "going from field to lab helps us integrate knowledge to identify the best traits in different wheat varieties that can be brought together in new, elite varieties".

Collaborations with technology companies Astec Global and Photon Systems Instruments will make screening and analysis possible through newly developed machinery. Cutting-edge field measurements will be made using technologies including drones, robotics and Global Positioning Systems.

The project, which is set to commence in 2016, is one of only eight internationally to be selected for funding through IWYP. It will share in a US$20 million first investment from a consortium of world research funding agencies.

As the Australian partner of IWYP, the Grain Research Development Corporation will be the primary funder of this project.

The project will involve collaborative efforts by ARC Centre of Excellence in Plant Energy Biology researchers at Australian National University, the University of Western Australia and the University of Adelaide.

Media References:

  • Barry Pogson (ARC CoE in Plant Energy Biology, Australian National University) +61 2 6125 5629, +61 409 517 570


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