Developing and screening novel wheat germplasm for the next generation of key traits which will underpin sustainable and productive agriculture



Saturday, April 1, 2017 - 11:30


5 years


Designing Future Wheat (DFW) aims to screen existing and new wheat germplasm for key traits, thereby identifying novel germplasm suitable for further exploitation.  This germplasm, together with tools and information required for its exploitation, will be made freely available to the wider plant community in a readily accessible form. Previously in the WISP project, novel germplasm with enhanced diversity was developed, using high-density genotyping to facilitate exploitation. The DFW ISP proposes using this germplasm to identify useful traits and their associated markers, allowing future trait selection in breeding programmes. 

The programme comprises a new collaboration of several UK organisations, namely Rothamsted Research, John Innes Centre, the Earlham Institute, NIAB, Institute of Food Research, the University of Bristol, the University of Nottingham and EMBL-EBI.

This programme supports underpinning research on a key UK crop. Beneficiaries will include the UK breeding and wheat production, processing and marketing industries, the academic community, international breeding centres and the developing world.


Wheat is one of the most important global crops, being grown on more land than any other commercial crop, and currently providing 20% of total calories consumed by humans daily worldwide, being second only to rice. A 60% increase in demand is expected by 2050, as the global population increases towards 10 billion. Most increased consumption is expected in developing countries. A sustainable and resilient increase in wheat yield must be achieved against the background of climate change. However, in many countries, wheat yields are not increasing at rates comparable to those achieved in previous decades. Moreover, drought or heat may result in regional losses in yield, resulting in price spikes in wheat grain cost, and associated political instability. Some 300 million people relying on wheat as a staple food face starvation in the coming years, mainly in countries surrounding Europe.  Since it takes up to 15-20 years for current research to improve wheat varieties grown in farmers' fields, it is imperative that we act now to address problems facing us in the future.

DFW research is organised into four separate work packages, two focusing on trait dissection and characterisation, one on germplasm development for trait dissection, and one on data access and analysis. Traits identified for dissection and characterisation were agreed by the wider private and public international research communities, as highlighted in the G20 wheat initiative Strategic Research Agenda, and in the BBSRC 5yr wheat strategy. The germplasm work package will develop near isogenic lines carrying chromosome segments derived from landraces or wild relatives and associated markers to facilitate trait dissection. The germplasm developed will also form the basis of breeders' toolkits, which will be refined and expanded during the programme, and provided to the breeders together with associated genotyping and trait data. The information and germplasm generated within the programme will also allow breeders to provide wheat processors and retailers with sources of grain with enhanced health benefits. A fourth work package will organise the data and resources developed in a readily accessible form, allowing analysis and full integration with that more widely available. This will also facilitate the translation of research information into non- wheat systems, and vice versa.

Work Package One: Increased efficiency and sustainability - covering optimisation of ideotypes and resource use efficiency, Lead: Dr Malcolm Hawkesford, Rothamsted Research

Work Package Two: Added value and resilience - covering safe and reliable grain, and durable resistance to pathogens and pests, Lead: Cristobal Uauy, JIC


  • Identify
    • traits conferring tolerance to UK drought and temperature stress scenarios;
    • genes influencing root and shoot development, crop height, inflorescence and grain architecture as well as the sensitivity of developmental phases to temperature, photoperiod and light quality; and the novel alleles that can be used to precisely manipulate these developmental processes;
    • genes and their alleles controlling seed size and yield;
    • genes responsible for root response to nutrient availability;
    • traits for nitrogen and other nutrient use;
    • genes for resistance to a range of pathogens and pests including rusts, Zymoseptoria, Fusarium, take-all, mildew, eyespot and aphids;
    • novel alleles for genes controlling the synthesis of starch and dietary fibre components and the accumulation of iron and zinc in grain.
  • Investigate potential modification of inflorescence architecture, resource allocation and developmental traits, and quantify effects on biomass, grain yield potential and yield stability. This will lead to predictive crop models for key wheat traits, and yield potential for future ideotypes under changing climatic conditions in the UK.
  • Develop predictions of how soil structure and the availability of nutrients and water interact with genotype to confer deep rooting, and how specific nutrients can enhance key processes during floral development.
  • Determine mechanisms and pathways of iron and zinc transport and accumulation within developing grain, and determine pathways giving rise to mycotoxins and how to manipulate them, to produce safe wheat based products.
  • Develop innovative technologies for in-field phenotyping, including use of drone and ground based systems including the robotic installation at Rothamsted and the JIC.

Work Package Three: Novel germplasm development, Lead: Simon Griffiths, JIC


  • Develop, multiply and distribute germplasm for specific trait dissection activities described above. 
  • Continue the development and refinement of germplasm toolkits for the wider plant community including breeders.
  • Develop core sets and population sub-sets tailored to specific applications, testing them in target environments. 
  • Develop near isogenic lines to precisely map QTLs for key traits, and develop the analytical tools required for their use.  

Work Package Four: Data access and analysis, Lead: Robert Davey, Earlham Institute


  • Deposit data generated within WPs 1-3 into suitable repositories to form a data resource, allowing global integration via international coordination efforts and contributing to the wheat information system within the wheat initiative.
  • Determine gene expression profiles on the different wheat genomes with respect to key traits, including development, composition and biotic and abiotic stresses.
  • Implement a wheat data hub, allowing easier access to the programme generated information and resources for the wider plant community.


View publications


  • John Innes Centre - Scott Boden; Simon Griffiths; Graham Moore; Paul Nicholson; Cristobal Uauy; Brande Wulff
  • Earlham Institute - Matthew Clark, Robert Davey; Anthony Hall; Ksenia Krasileva; Diane Saunders; David Swarbreck; Wilfried Haerty; Ji Zhou
  • NIAB - Alison Bentley; Kay Trafford
  • IFR - Brittany Hazard
  • University of Bristol - Gary Barker; Keith Edwards
  • University of Nottingham - John Foulkes; Julie King; Ian King; Sacha Mooney; Tony Pridmore; Craig Sturrock
  • EMBL-EBI - Paul Kersey