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Climate-change traits interest growers, but traits to benefit millers and end users have entered the wheat improvement discussion, too. Or as Lee Sanders, senior vice-president, government relations and public affairs, American Bakers Association, remarked, “Bakers feel strongly that their crops should have the ability to produce our traditional products.”
The first traits will be grower-oriented, and as time passes, more end-user traits will come out, according to William Wilson, PhD, university distinguished professor, Department of Agribusiness and Applied Economics, North Dakota State University, Fargo, ND. “That’s what happened in soy and corn. We have the situation with companies gravitating toward the same traits, and the result, eight to 12 years from now, will be a very competitive race on who will get out first and have the most efficient traits.”
With wheat, end user traits are attracting early attention. The discussion of quality traits also involves consumers. “Biotech change that involves nutritional traits would make the new technology more acceptable to consumers,” Ms. Sanders said.
What traits are breeders exploring? Disease resistance has long been a top trait, but factors such as cultivating practices as well as environmental stress also count. Wheat performance differs from place to place. Dr. Wilson described a drought-resistant GM wheat that yields 20% higher results in Australia than conventional seed. “How valuable is drought resistance?” he asked. “It could be a $400 million to $500 million trait. Its best value will be in the Northern Great Plains of the US and in Canada’s Prairie Gateway region.”
Recent acquisitions and partnerships among life sciences companies will facilitate trait development in wheat, both GM and non-GM. “At LCS, in partnership with Arcadia Bioscience, we look forward to nitrogen and water use efficiency traits, high amylose starch content and, in non-GM crops, new sources of disease and stress tolerance,” explained Jim Peterson, PhD, vice-president, research, Limagrain Cereal Seeds, Fort Collins, CO.
Some of the most interesting work concerns potential nutritional benefits, according to Anne Bridges, PhD, a specialist in cereal analytics based at Malvern, Australia. She cited examples that include traits involved with high-molecular-weight glutenin subunits, altered carbohydrate content and increased beta-glucan levels. She also noted efforts to remove gliadins and gliadin-type prolamins from wheat’s gluten component to improve the grain’s tolerance by gluten-sensitive individuals and those with celiac disease.