A 'breeder's tool kit' to improve Hagberg Falling Number for the economic and environmental sustainability of UK wheat

Lead Research Organisation: John Innes Centre
Department Name: Crop Genetics

Abstract

A harvested wheat crop is normally assessed for several quality attributes that influence the ability of its flour to make bread and also affect the money paid to farmers by millers. One such parameter is called Hagberg Falling Number (HFN) which is an indirect measure of the properties that a loaf of bread will have. For example, wheat with low HFN will produce bread that is very difficult to slice because of sticky crumb. Therefore, millers and other end-users avoid buying wheat grain that has a HFN value below a fixed number. Low HFN wheat impacts negatively on the environment as it produces wastage and inefficient use of resources. Unlike other problems in wheat which can be corrected by agronomic practices or through disease management, HFN is heavily influenced by the environment and cannot be easily improved by these means. This is especially relevant in the UK environment as cold and wet periods during the summer are thought to reduce HFN. Therefore, the most effective and reliable way for a farmer to grow high HFN wheat is proper varietal selection. Unfortunately, it is very difficult for breeders to develop high HFN varieties due to lack of knowledge of the genes, or regions throughout the genome, which might influence HFN. Through a previously funded Defra-BBSRC project we have made important progress in understanding the variation for HFN in UK wheat varieties and have taken a first step to discovering the regions of the genome that affect this trait. Despite these encouraging results, we are still short in developing the tools that breeders require to transfer this knowledge into improved commercial wheat varieties. This projects seeks to address this limitation by developing a 'breeder's tool kit' that will assist towards this end. We have selected six regions of the wheat genome which we know are affecting HFN based on experiments conducted in the previous project. We will now hone in and develop more precise information of these regions. This will result in better defined genetic maps which breeders can use to navigate the wheat genome and focus their breeding efforts more effectively in those locations that contain genes affecting HFN. We will investigate how these regions affect agronomic traits which are of interests to breeders and farmers; such as yield and other quality characteristics. We will also combine the six regions in different combinations to better understand how they work together and if we can produce more resilient varieties that will have high HFN values independent of the weather conditions. We will also investigate the basic biology of how these regions affect HFN. Together, this information will enable UK plant breeders to develop new, more competitive varieties of wheat with reduced environmental footprint and more consistent grain quality.

Technical Summary

Hagberg Falling Number (HFN) is one of several standards against which the UK wheat crop is routinely assessed for bread-making quality. Low HFN is a serious problem reducing grower's margins, increasing costs in the processing industries and with many negative environmental impacts. The most effective and sustainable option for achieving consistent HFN for bread-making specifications and export premiums is through proper varietal selection. Considerable progress has been made in understanding the genetic systems involved through the Defra-BBSRC-funded LINK project (LK0975, 2005-2010). Despite the success of this initial discovery phase, several factors restrict the use of the project outcomes in commercial breeding programmes. There is now an opportunity to address these limitations and convert this knowledge into a 'breeder's tool kit' allowing high throughput marker-assisted selection. We have selected QTL (chromosomal regions) which have been prioritized based on stability, effect on pre-harvest sprouting (PHS)/HFN and their importance to both academic and industrial partners. We propose an extended partnership to identify and validate closely linked markers associated with these QTL to allow marker assisted breeding of new wheat varieties with improved HFN and resistance to PHS. We will evaluate interactions between these QTL in isogenic genetic backgrounds and determine their effect on yield related traits and agronomic characteristics. We will also use the precise germplasm generated in this proposal for controlled physiological experiments to characterize seed dormancy mechanisms and to exploit new technologies to accelerate marker development. This information will enable UK plant breeders to develop new, more competitive varieties of wheat with reduced environmental footprint and more consistent grain quality.

Planned Impact

The most important impact of this research is the development of a 'breeder's tool kit' (including tightly linked molecular markers for validated and clearly defined QTL) that will enable breeders to develop new varieties of bread wheat with stable HFN and bread-making quality under variable weather conditions. There are many environmental and economic costs associated with PHS/HFN that have a detrimental effect on the overall competitiveness and sustainability of the UK arable industry. Genetic improvement of PHS/HFN would have a profound impact on reducing these negative externalities across the production sector. We expect several different beneficiaries of the proposed work, including the private sector in the form of wheat farmers and breeding companies, the UK environment, and the wider public in general. Breeders, farmers, and Industry: -In the last three years, almost 40% of the nabim Group 1 acreage grown for bread-making in the UK has failed to meet the minimum HFN requirement, with an average of over 27% over the last decade. Bread-making wheat that fails to make the Hagberg quality threshold is usable only as animal feed, incurring a drop in price of up to 28% (£37/tonne, Aug 2009). Therefore, many growers lose the premium essential to grow Group 1 varieties profitably. This also has a knock-on effect on the price of feed wheat, reducing all UK wheat growers' incomes still further. - As part of the 'breeder's kit' we will generate the necessary experimental germplasm to determine how these QTL interact with each other and evaluate their effect on important agronomic performance characters such as yield, crop establishment, quality, height, etc. This information will allow the best combinations of alleles to be deployed in breeding programmes and will significantly increase the likelihood of uptake. - Currently, overseas wheat represents approximately 15-20% of UK milling grists. The economic cost of importing over one million tonnes of wheat to he UK exceeded £150 million in 2008/09. The ability to produce high quality wheat with reliable HFN would significantly decrease these import costs and possibly open export markets. - The identification of validated molecular markers for genomic regions that confer reliably high HFN will enable the industrial partners to screen breeding material for this complex trait in early generations, thus improving the efficiency of variety development. This is of critical importance for industrial competitiveness as breeding material for all nabim groups requires a minimum HFN standard to be included on the HGCA Recommended List. UK environment and society: - Increased and stable HFN will decrease reliance on imports of bread-making quality wheat [over one million tonnes annually, including 45% from non-EU members (2008)], thereby reducing the environmental and economic costs of overseas transport. - Increased tolerance to adverse weather will decrease the need to harvest wheat before fully mature, a practise used to avoid a decrease of HFN in the field. This will reduce the requirement for costly grain drying, minimising energy use (drying can account for ~10-15% of wheat production energy use), reducing CO2 emissions and improving the commercial and environmental sustainability of UK wheat. - Wheat crop that is grown for bread-making often requires extra N applications to meet protein specifications. Considering group 1 acreage and percent failure to meet HFN specifications, a surplus of over 11,550 tonnes N/annum have been applied in the last three seasons. This is especially relevant considering that ~45% of CO2 emissions from wheat production inputs are due to N fertilizers. This significant environmental and economic impact could be reduced with the outcomes of this project. Increased reliability of wheat HFN will allow these N applications to be better targeted at crops that will have a higher probability of meeting the bread-making quality threshold.
 
Description • We have assessed the effects of four regions for pre-harvest sprouting (PHS) and Hagberg Falling Number (HFN) on yield and phenology traits. This addresses potential side-effects (both positive and negatives) of deploying the resistant alleles more widely into UK germplasm and informs the breeding strategies of companies.

• We have characterised the different regions for sprouting characteristics and have determined preliminary mechanisms that suggest sequential action of the genes. This is helping breeders combine genes that have complementary action (early and late acting for example) as opposed to two genes that have similar mode of action.

• Using the latest genomic tools in wheat, we have generated a large number of markers which are now being used to define the genes for each genes and will allow us to test alongside breeders the markers which are most closely associated with HFN and PHS resistance in UK varieties.

• We have mapped one gene to a very precise genetic interval and developed near-diagnostic markers for UK germplasm.
Exploitation Route This is a collaborative grant including four major breeding companies. They are currently using the outputs of the project for marker assisted selection and characterisation of their germplasm.
Sectors Agriculture, Food and Drink

 
Description Wheat breeders within the project are currently using the SNP-markers for marker assisted selection in their commercial breeding programmes.
First Year Of Impact 2013
Sector Agriculture, Food and Drink
Impact Types Economic

 
Description UK Global Food Security Science Advisory Board
Geographic Reach Multiple continents/international 
Policy Influence Type Participation in a advisory committee
URL https://www.foodsecurity.ac.uk/
 
Title Wheat Training 
Description This website provides background information and practical resources to help both budding wheat scientists as well as researchers looking to expand their work into wheat. There is a need to improve crops to feed the world's growing population with the backdrop of climate change. Translation of fundamental plant biology research (e.g. from Arabidopsis thaliana) into crops such as wheat provides a potential route to deal with this challenge. However learning even simple tasks such as growing and crossing wheat plants requires time and effort, while material and methods sections in published articles are often short and cannot substitute teaching aids. This is also true for more complex topics such as the genomics aspect of wheat. 
Type Of Material Database/Collection of data 
Year Produced 2016 
Provided To Others? Yes  
Impact >4,500 sessions from >2,700 users 
URL http://www.wheat-training.com/
 
Description Bayer 
Organisation Bayer
Department Bayer CropScience Ltd
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Private 
PI Contribution Wheat genetics and genomics
Collaborator Contribution Wheat breeding and molecular knowledge
Impact joint projects
Start Year 2012
 
Description KWS 
Organisation KWS UK
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Private 
PI Contribution Genetics and genomics
Collaborator Contribution Breeder know how and germplasm
Impact joint projects
Start Year 2009
 
Description Limagrain 
Organisation Limagrain
Country France 
Sector Private 
PI Contribution Genetics and genomics
Collaborator Contribution Germplasm and breeder know-how
Impact Phd Studentship, field trails, among others
Start Year 2009
 
Description Punjab Agricultural University 
Organisation Punjab Aricultural University
Country India 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution Know how on wheat genomics and genetics, training.
Collaborator Contribution Gernplasm, local knowledge
Impact Have helped partners implement marker technology.
Start Year 2011
 
Description RAGT 
Organisation RAGT Seeds
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Learned Society 
PI Contribution Genetics and genomics
Collaborator Contribution Wheat germplasm and know how
Impact Shared projects
Start Year 2009
 
Description Agricultural Industries Confederation 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Industry/Business
Results and Impact Agribusiness Meeting: A step change in plant breeding to achieve a UK competitive advantage
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2016
 
Description Discussion Norman Lamb, MP 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Policymakers/politicians
Results and Impact Discussion Norman Lamb, MP
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017
 
Description Discussion with Gov Office Science 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Policymakers/politicians
Results and Impact Discussion with Gov Office Science
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017
 
Description Gatbsy Plant Science Students 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Regional
Primary Audience Schools
Results and Impact Can wheat genomics help alleviate food insecurity?
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017
 
Description Italian Society of Genetics (SIGA) and Plant Biology (SIBV) Joint meeting 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Postgraduate students
Results and Impact Keynote at PISA
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017
 
Description JIC Open day 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an open day or visit at my research institution
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact JIC Open Day
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018
 
Description Talk Aarhus 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Postgraduate students
Results and Impact Talk at Aarhus University
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017
 
Description Training in "Bioinformatics to advance wheat breeding" 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Postgraduate students
Results and Impact Training in "Bioinformatics to advance wheat breeding"
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017
 
Description • EPSO-EC Conference at EXPO Milano 
Form Of Engagement Activity A formal working group, expert panel or dialogue
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Policymakers/politicians
Results and Impact EU meeting on new breeding technologies
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2015