Indo-UK Centre for the improvement of Nitrogen use Efficiency in Wheat (INEW)

Lead Research Organisation: Rothamsted Research
Department Name: Plant Sciences


Wheat is the most important staple crop grown in the UK, and one of the two major crops grown in India. Nitrogen fertiliser is a key determinant of yield and the major cost of wheat production in both countries and excessive application can result in pollution of groundwater and increased production of greenhouse gases. Breeders and farmers in the UK and India have worked hard to improve the efficiency of use of applied nitrogen, by improving the uptake and utilization efficiency within the crop through genetic improvement, together with the precision of fertilizer application in the field. However, further improvements are required to face the challenges of increasing crop production for an expanding global population with increasing uncertainty of climate. Both yield and quality attributes are dependent upon nitrogen inputs and need to be incorporated into economic and sustainable solutions.
We will therefore bring together the major UK and Indian wheat researchers with programmes on wheat improvement to determine the genetic control of nitrogen use efficiency in wheat. These comprise scientists from five Universities and Institutes in the UK and from six in New Delhi, Haryana and the Punjab, which is the major wheat-producing area of India.
The studies will focus on comparisons of wheat lines and populations which differ in their nitrogen use efficiency. These lines will be grown in field experiments in both countries and studied in detail using a range of biochemical and molecular genetic approaches. This will lead to the identification of genes and molecular markers that can be exploited by wheat breeders globally, and to new strategies for improving the precision of nitrogen application which will delivered to farmers via well-established mechanisms in both countries. Furthermore, since similar mechanisms are expected to determine nitrogen use efficiency in other plant species the results should be of wider applicability to other crops and countries.
In addition to supporting a closely integrated research programme in the UK and India, the Centre will also provide a legacy of shared facilities, technologies, genetic material and datasets that will facilitate longer term bilateral collaborations, and provide training in crop genetics and genomics and exchanges for early career scientists and students in both countries.

Planned Impact

Wheat is the major staple crop in both the UK, with 12-15 million tonnes being grown annually, and in India, where production is between 90 and 95 million tonnes a year.

Nitrogen is the major agronomic input that determines the performance and productivity of wheat, in both rainfed systems in the UK and Western Europe and irrigated systems in India. This has consequences for production costs, with nitrogen being the major production cost for UK farmers, and for the environmental footprint of the crop, with fertilizer nitrogen contributing to greenhouse gas emissions and to contamination of ground water. In the UK, farmers applied over 1 million tonnes of nitrogen fertiliser in 2012, with a cost of £800m. Similarly, in India, about approximately 12 million tonnes of fertilizer nitrogen fertiliser were applied during 2012-13 (about 15% of total world use) at an estimated cost of £3,000 million. The use of nitrogen fertiliser also has a global impact in terms of pollution of groundwaters and the generation of greenhouse gases. The "preliminary global social cost for all forms of N pollution has recently been estimated at 200 to 2000 billion US dollars per annually' (Sutton M.A. et al. (2013) Our Nutrient World). It is clear that the continued application of high levels of nitrogen fertilizer fertiliser, combined with inefficient capture and utilization utilisation is not sustainable, in both economic and environmental terms.
Hence, the proposal will bring together the major groups and institutions with expertise in NUE in wheat in India and the UK, under a Virtual Joint Centre, in order to develop genetic strategies to optimise the efficiency of nitrogen uptake and use within the wheat plant. This will minimise losses from the soil and maximise the proportion of the nitrogen that is recovered in the proteins of the mature grain. Thus, the centre will have significant societal impacts from improvements to food security, reduced environmental impacts via reduced ls of reactive nitrogen from fertiliser applications, and economic impacts from reducing the use of nitrogen-based fertilisers and associated crop production costs for farmers.
Description The first years field trial has been completed in the UK and will be completed in India in May. It has been agreed that this trial will be repeated in the UK, with limited changes in germplasm, in 2017.
A course for 26 Indian students and early career scientists on "Quantitative Methods in Plant Breeding" was held in Ludhiana on 29-August to 2 September at PAU Ludhiana, organised by Drs Alison Bentley and Ian MacKay (NIAB)
Mapping of UK the germplasm with KASP markers has been completed at the University of Bristol. Mapping of the Indian germplasm is in progress in New Delhi.
Exploitation Route With Indian and UK wheat breeders and agronomists
Sectors Agriculture, Food and Drink