BBSRC Institute Strategic Programme: Delivering Sustainable Wheat (DSW) Partner Grant

Lead Research Organisation: Lancaster University
Department Name: Lancaster Environment Centre


Delivering Sustainable Wheat (DSW) programme is needed because wheat is an indispensable global staple and the major crop of the UK and Western Europe. Wheat will play a crucial part in feeding a world population of 10B by 2050 but its production is fragile as more than half the world supply is from just five countries. This fragility has been tragically demonstrated by the war in Ukraine, an important wheat exporter. Future increases in wheat production have to be achieved without equivalent growth in fertiliser (nitrogen fertilisers are a major source of greenhouse gasses) and water use (all wheat growing regions suffer ground water decline). While facing these challenges farmers are also confronted with yield limiting effects of climate change and new diseases. Adaptations are needed to achieve sustainable production in the coming decades. Wheat also plays an important role in delivering human nutrition. With further enhancements reductions in human misery and healthcare costs are possible by filling dietary gaps with more nutritious wheat. DSW will form a uniquely coordinated UK contribution n to these challenges with strong linkages to the international wheat community. It is in a strong position to do this because the current wheat programme (DFW) has developed world leading experimental platform for wheat research. Extensive specialist gene discovery populations allow us to sample the majority of natural diversity available and to show which elements of this diversity are useful for breeders in tackling the challenges described. DFW uncovered the genetic code for 1000s of these lines. This means that after locating useful genes DSW can understand their role in molecular networks controlling targeted characteristics. With gene editing the function of these DNA changes will be proved. These tools and resources, accessible because of open and fair data access, are powerful but need to be directed towards the right questions. DSW is focussed on crop characteristics chosen in long term discussion with the widest possible group of wheat experts. It will advance understanding of yield determination to increase productivity without equal rates of increase in fertiliser use, so minimising CO2 emissions. Alternative strategies of wheat development which increases yield with minimal sensitivity to temperature will be uncovered. DSW will even investigate how wheat can be a CO2 sink and achieve Net Zero status, for example by deep rooting and assess these new characteristics in farming systems that reflect changes in agriculture, such as the move from ploughing to reduced cultivation practices. This research depends on a deep understanding of the dynamic process of photosynthesis. DSW will identify new disease resistances for existing disease threats and play its part in predicting new threats. Long term solutions for sustainable disease resistance will be found and incorporated into sustainable integrated pest management programmes. The goal to increase nutritional benefits of wheat will focus on Iron, Zinc, Calcium and fibre. For the first time, the wheat programme will conduct human intervention trials to provide direct evidence for the physiological benefits of nutritionally improved wheat. At the heart of the programme, open and fair data access will ensure that DSW delivers. Again, DSW has set up the platform that this excellent research can be translated into progress for plant breeders. DSW invests in pre-breeding so that the new genes, knowledge and new types of wheat feed into breeding. This highly integrated cross disciplinary programme could not be achieved by any one institution. DSW brings together the complementary skills of four research Institutes (John Innes Centre, Rothamsted, Quadram Institute, and Earlham) and five universities (Leeds, Nottingham, Lancaster, Bristol, and Imperial College) and the National Institute of Agricultural Botany.

Technical Summary

This project represents Lancaster University's contribution to the delivery of the following Institute Strategic Programme Grant: BBSRC Institute Strategic Programme: Delivering Sustainable Wheat (DSW), BB/X011003/1.

As part of WP1 HLO 1.2 Optimising canopy function and interactions, we will determine photosynthetic efficiency in the wheat canopy throughout key phases of development (stem elongation, booting and anthesis). We will phenotype dynamic photosynthetic traits both in field trials and under controlled environment conditions. Field experiments will use infra-red gas-exchange analysers (IRGAs) and field high-throughput (HTP) phenotyping tools to determine both photosynthetic capacity and operational photosynthetic rates. Chlorophyll fluorescence HTP phenotyping will be used to assess variation in dynamic responses of photosynthesis to fluctuations in light, using a method recently developed by the Lancaster team that enables rapid screening of over 100 accessions per day. The results will be validated by assessment of dynamic photosynthesis in a smaller number of accessions using the IRGAs. This combination of measurements provides a thorough assessment of photosynthetic diversity in field-grown wheat that will inform the development of high yielding germplasm.
Wheat invests a large proportion of nitrogen into making Rubisco in sufficient amounts to sustain carbon assimilation. We will characterise the regulation of Rubisco synthesis and degradation in relation to the timing of carbon capture versus nitrogen remobilisation to the grain. Using this information, we will define and implement a strategy to optimise the resource investment of wheat plants. Combining our expertise with Philippa Borrill, Malcolm Hawkesford and Mathew Paul will enable a holistic understanding of the regulatory networks that impact source and sink strength interactions to maximise carbon capture and the efficiency of nutrient utilisation by the wheat canopy.


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