Genetics and physiology of wheat development to flowering: tools to breed for improved adaptation and yield potential

Lead Research Organisation: John Innes Centre
Department Name: Contracts Office


The overall objective of this project is the timely delivery of knowledge, variation, and tools to breeding programmes for developmental attributes of wheat that will improve adaptation and yield. This addresses short term Global and European food security issues and establishes a platform for long term genetic gain and maintenance breeding. For this reason, in this project we aim to test a set of physiological hypotheses, and identify prospective genetic factors and valuable germplasm, for flowering time and its phenological partitioning, in wheat. These hypotheses will relate to adaptation and crop performance.
We will assemble a varied range of the genetic materials necessary to test and extend these hypotheses in the form of predictive models.
Specific objectives include
• to assemble appropriate germplasm panels (including near isogenic lines, segregating populations, collections for association mapping, and specific varieties/breeding lines) representing known genetic variation for developmental traits
• to phenotype in the germplasm panels of the project agronomic traits determining adaptation and yield potential.
• to characterise developmental traits determining flowering time in the genetic material of the panels studied (e.g. timings to onset of different phenophases and processes, dynamics of leaf number initiation and phyllochron, dynamics of floret development and grain set)
• to relate phenotyped traits across levels of organisation, integrating genotypic and phenotypic information in QTL identification, and testing potentially useful QTLs in realistic breeding conditions
• to deliver genetic markers for physiological components of complex phenological traits to allow the breeder to build flowering/phenology crop types by marker assisted selection of gene combinations
• to provide a gene expression tool box which will allow the observed variation, including environmental interactions, to be connected to specific markers of gene expression and show through which environmental perception and flowering time pathways genotypic responses are mediated
• to explore the actual value of particular developmental alleles (affecting either adaptation or yield potential) across a wide range of growing conditions throughout Europe, to test response to different climates and prepare for climate change and changes in climate variability
The participants gathered in the proposed consortium provide a balance of whole plant physiology and genetic expertise and are ideally placed to exploit the materials we have assembled which include doubled haploid mapping populations, varieties, near-isogenic lines (NILs) and collections for association mapping. The programme of work will significantly advance our genetic and functional understanding of both flowering time and independent growth stage regulation, providing robust tools for manipulation of both adaptation and yield potential in wheat.


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Dixon LE (2019) controls developmental responses of winter wheat under high ambient temperatures. in Development (Cambridge, England)

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Ochagavía H (2019) Earliness Per Se by Temperature Interaction on Wheat Development. in Scientific reports

Description A set of markers for key genetic loci for wheat flowering time and development was put together as a tool box to characterise new varieties and breeding lines.

Moreover, we have put together a collection of European elite wheat varieties and characterised key genetic loci. This collection is a good tool to test hypotheses on how to best address
issues connected to climate change via breeding.

Furthermore, with the help of project partners, an already existing set of genetically very similar (near-isogenic) wheat lines, only diverging for key flowering time and developmental genes, that had been developed in our lab, has been tested under field condition at several European and international locations in very different environments. We thus have now a very useful data collection of plant developmental responses, which will enable us to better understand the actions of these genes or gene networks under field conditions. This again will be a valuable addition to inform future breeding programmes.

Additionally, we have developed four new mapping populations, particularly suited to investigate developmental progress of wheat plants. These populations are an important tool for research into the issues of plant development and crop adaptation.

We have identified flowering time and developmental alleles in one of those populations (Buster x Charger) that could now be tested in breeding context.

We have been able to better understand the influence of vernalisation status on temperature response and flowering time. Our findings seem to suggest that the mechanism
of how wheat reacts to winter temperatures is more complicated than the standard literature was assuming. In fact all of the flowering time genes classically described as EPS we have shown to be involved in ambient temperature sensitivity.
Exploitation Route The set of genetic markers covering key genes in wheat development and flowering time can be used by breeders and researchers to characterise their plant material and to thus better inform a breeding or research programme on that material.

The germplasm collection of European elite lines developed can be used by other researchers to test new hypothesis on development as lines are characterised for key genetic loci.

The new mapping populations will help to further entangle the genetic architecture of developmental genes in different environments by researchers internationally.
Sectors Agriculture, Food and Drink

Description Marker sets to identify key flowering and developmental loci are taken up by breeding companies to characterise their breeding material. A new understanding of the genetics of ambient temperature response.
First Year Of Impact 2014
Sector Agriculture, Food and Drink
Impact Types Societal,Economic,Policy & public services

Title Central European Wheat Breeding 
Description This is a wiki page used by the informal consortium established at the meeting to share presentations, data, and protocols. 
Type Of Material Database/Collection of data 
Year Produced 2013 
Provided To Others? Yes  
Impact It was instrumental if forming the successful ADAPTAWHEAT consortium which won FP7 funding. 
Description A Genetic Diversity Toolkit to Maximize Harvest Index by Controlling the Duration of Developmental Phases a three month vist to CIMMYT headquarters 
Organisation International Centre for Maize and Wheat Improvement (CIMMYT)
Country Mexico 
Sector Charity/Non Profit 
PI Contribution I worked with CIMMYT staff to develop ideas and approaches for future research.
Collaborator Contribution They showed me how the CIMMYT physiology and breeding programmes operate.
Impact Submission of a grant application to the International wheat yield partnership (IWYP).
Start Year 2017
Description Hungarian Academy of Sciences, Hungary (Project Partner) 
Organisation Hungarian Academy of Sciences (MTA)
Country Hungary 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution Exchange of germplasm, genetic markers, teaching of molecular genetic techniques.
Collaborator Contribution Exchange of germplasm, use of climate chambers in Hungary and sharing of phenotypic data
Impact Publication Kiss 2015
Start Year 2012
Description University of Lleida 
Organisation University of Lleida
Country Spain 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution Providing germplasm, genotyping service
Collaborator Contribution Providing local germplasm, phenotypic data on JIC lines from field and climate chambers
Impact Reynolds 2012 publication González-Navarro 2015 publication
Start Year 2012
Description Invited speaker University of Reading 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact Presentation on the genetics of adaptation in wheat
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017
Description Invited speaker at PlantGen2017 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact Presentation on genetics of adaptation in bread wheat
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017
Description JIC Breeders Day 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Industry/Business
Results and Impact Tours of JICs experimental farm (Church Farm) with presentations by project leaders to show how their research can be applied in plant breeding.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017