Getting the most from bread wheat landraces

Wheat is the world’s most important food crop. In the developing world it is the second most important crop after rice. Demand for wheat currently outstrips the world’s ability to produce it – an ability that is also constantly under threat from new diseases, rampant pests and a changing climate.

The Grains Research and Development Corporation (GRDC) of Australia funded a four-year project looking at the targeted exploitation of the N. I. Vavilov Institute of Plant Industry, ICARDA and Australian bread wheat landrace germplasm for the benefit of wheat breeding programs. The project involves a collaborative effort between the famous Vavilov Institute of St Petersburg, Russia, the Australian Winter Cereals Collection hosted by the Department of Primary Industries in NSW, Australia, and ICARDA.

While the idea behind FIGS encompasses all crop types held in all genebanks, this project focuses only on bread wheat landraces held in three genebanks to help develop prototype systems. Each of the above institutes house sizable collections of bread wheat landraces. They are special collections because they are from very diverse environments and feature accessions that were collected early in the 20th Century and, as such, are unique in that many of them could no longer be found in the field due to displacement by modern varieties.

In this project a database containing information about the wheat genotypes and where they came from was compiled. Using historic collection mission reports, the geographic coordinates were captured thus allowing a connection to be built between derived agro-climatic and other parameters at collection sites. The idea is to build up detailed environmental profiles of the habitats within which a given genotype evolved with subsets designed to capture variation for resistance/tolerance to the following traits - drought, salinity, powdery mildew and Russian wheat aphids.

A core set was developed, using methodologies based on geographic locations of collection sites, to use as a check when screening the FIGS sets. The hypothesis being that researchers are more likely to find trait specific variation in the FIGS sets than in the core set.

The suite of agro-geographic parameters used to describe the collections sites are currently being expanded and further FIGS sets are under development and will be screened when funding permits.