New research hub to boost $5 billion wheat crop

Friday, 11 September 2015

New research hub to boost $5 billion wheat crop

New wheat varieties, bred specifically for Australia’s harsh conditions, will be accelerated because of research within a new $11.4 million Research Hub being launched at the University of Adelaide’s Waite campus today.

The Australian Research Council (ARC) Research Hub for Wheat in a Hot and Dry Climate marks a new era in wheat breeding and research in Australia. It brings together wheat researchers and Australia’s three major wheat breeding companies to exploit global diversity for wheat and advanced genomic technologies for faster development of heat and drought tolerant varieties which make better use of nitrogen fertiliser.

“Wheat is one of Australia’s most important crops─worth over $5 billion a year─and globally among the most important sources of protein and carbohydrate for the human diet,” says Associate Professor Sigrid Heuer, Director of the Research Hub. “But yields in Australia are low, mainly due to water limitation and high temperatures. Typical yields are about 1.5 tonne/hectare compared to 8 tonnes/hectare achieved in Europe.

“A single hot day at the wrong time can reduce yield by up to 50%. With the Wheat Research Hub, we will develop wheat that is tolerant of combined heat and drought stress, while maintaining high protein levels.”

“With recent advances in genome sequencing and other technologies, and an ever-growing knowledge of plant biology, we now have the know-how and tools to translate this knowledge into plant breeding for the benefit of Australian graingrowers and the economy.”

The researchers have brought together over 1000 types of wheat varieties and wheat-related plants from 57 countries around the world to find new genetic diversity. These plants will be screened for tolerance to Australian conditions.

“Using molecular marker technologies, we will be able to rapidly track traits of interest and integrate them into wheat breeding programs,” says Associate Professor Heuer.

Another key objective of the Hub will be to break the negative link between high yield and desirable high grain protein.

“Although yields are low, Australian wheat is traded at high prices because of its superior grain quality, due to high protein. Unfortunately in high-yielding years the protein content drops because nitrogen is distributed to more grains, and diluted. We will study nitrogen-use efficiency and develop wheat varieties that make better use of nitrogen within the plant,” says Associate Professor Heuer.

The ARC Research Hub for Wheat in a Hot and Dry Climate is led by the Australian Centre for Plant Functional Genomics at the University of Adelaide.

It is funded by the Australian Government through the Australian Research Council’s Industrial Transformation Research Hubs scheme and the Grains Research and Development Corporation. Partners include breeding companies Australian Grain Technologies (AGT), LongReach Plant Breeders and Intergrain, the University of Sydney and the University of South Australia.


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Contact Details

Associate Professor Sigrid Heuer (email)
Director, ARC Research Hub for Wheat in a Hot and Dry Climate
Australian Centre for Plant Functional Genomics
The University of Adelaide
Business: +61 8 8313 1069
Mobile: +61 478 292 724

Ms Robyn Mills (email)
Media and Communications Officer
The University of Adelaide
Business: +61 8 8313 6341
Mobile: +61 410 689 084