Hybrid wheat
Australian researchers have discovered a gene that could help in the breeding of high-yielding hybrid wheats.

ADELAIDE, AUSTRALIA — Australian researchers have discovered a gene that could help in the breeding of high-yielding hybrid wheats and radically change the way wheat is bred.

The research by the University of Adelaide, in collaboration with DuPont Pioneer, was published in the journal Nature Communications in October.

Researchers identified Ms1, a naturally occurring wheat gene that when it is turned off eliminates self-pollination but allows for cross-pollination. This will allow for breeding high-yield wheat varieties, which will be necessary to meet the increasing demand for food due to global population growth.

Wheat production needs to increase 60% by 2050, said Ryan Whitford, hybrid wheat program leader at the University of Adelaide’s School of Agriculture, Food and Wine.

“One of the most promising options to meet this demand is for farmers to grow hybrid wheat varieties, which can offer a 10% to 15% yield boost relative to conventionally bred varieties that are currently on the market,” he said.

Hybrid wheats are the result of crosses from two pure wheat lines. The challenge in producing hybrid wheat is in the breeding and commercial multiplication of the hybrid parent seed. Wheat is a self-pollinator, but the production of hybrid seed requires large-scale cross-pollination, researchers said.

“Hybrids are widely used for the cereals maize (or corn) and rice, but developing a viable hybrid system for bread wheat has been a challenge because of the complexity of the wheat genome,” Mr. Whitford said. “We have now identified a gene necessary for cross-pollination in wheat that can be used in large-scale, low-cost production of parent breeding lines necessary for hybrid wheat seed production.”

In Australia, hybrid wheat would probably best serve those wheat growers in the higher yielding, high rainfall zones along the eastern seaboard, but hybrids also could provide improved yield stability in the more challenging growing regions of Australia.

In addition to yield increases, hybrid seed production would stimulate investment in wheat improvement from the public and private sectors, researchers said. But, the competitiveness of wheat hybrids will depend on hybrid seed production costs.

In the United States, DuPont Pioneer has developed an innovative breeding technology for corn called Seed Production Technology (SPT) used to bulk up parent breeding lines for hybrid production.

“The pollination gene is ‘biologically contained’ to the breeding process and does not make its way past the grandparent stage in producing the end-user hybrid seed,” said Marc Albertsen, research director, DuPont Pioneer. “This identified pollination gene is the key step for a similar technology for wheat and could dramatically increase the efficiency of hybrid wheat seed production.”