Accelerated plant breeding: the future is bright

Dr Cristobal Uauy, Project Leader Crop Genetics, John Innes Centre – Dr Uauy will be speaking at CropTec 2014.
Cristobel Uauy (3)“I’ve been in the UK at the John Innes Centre for five years. When I saw the post advertised I knew that I had to apply because of the international reputation that the institute has. We are focused on exploring how better understanding of plant genetics can be used to improve crop production.
What I want to convey at CropTec is that using new genetic markers and sequencing technology is helping to speed up the development of crops that deliver higher yields, can resist pests and disease and have improved quality. The development in genetics has been dramatic with new techniques allowing us to identify more markers at lower and lower costs. So while a few years ago identifying markers may have taken several years of a student’s life now it can be done in an afternoon.
In the past traditional genetic crossing has allowed breeders to develop resistance to disease, but often that has relied on one gene delivering that resistance. Now we can breed resistance into a crop using multiple resistant genes which means that protection against disease is more resilient. Other areas we are looking at include midge resistance and improving protein content in wheat.
Much has been spoken about a plateau in UK wheat yields and while there may be a number of agronomic and economic reasons for that, genetic markers should play an increasing role in helping deliver improved on-farm yields. Wheat was one of the later food crops to have its genome mapped because it is more complex than other crops such as rice and maize. That complexity has meant wheat has been more adaptability compared to other crops, allowing it to be grown in extreme conditions across the world, but that complexity also means that genetic progress has lagged behind that for maize and rice. But now we are gaining a better understanding of the genetic make-up of wheat and are optimistic that it will lead to significant gains in sustainable yield.
My presentation at CropTec gives us a great opportunity to share our work with the farmers who are starting to witness how the technology we are developing is being incorporated into wheat varieties. It also provides us with a great opportunity to learn from them about what they expect from the latest crop genetic developments.”
For more on CropTec see www.croptechshow.com

Sophia Hussain

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