Context

Wheat represents a major renewable resource for food, feed, and industrial raw materials and is the most widely grown crop worldwide. With its high yielding wheat production (70q/ha on average), France is a major producer and exporter (36Mt/year, 5th producer and exporter) and wheat production contributes significantly to the French economy with a positive balance of 6.6 billion € (2007). With changing diets and growing world populations, rising prices for fertilizers and phytosanitary products, increasing competition between food and non food uses, and the negative effects of high temperature and drought resulting from climate change, world wheat production has not met demand in 7 of the past 10 years. Thus, to face the challenge of delivering safe, high-quality, and health-promoting food and feed in an economical, environmentally sensitive, and sustainable manner while maintaining yield and stability across environments affected differently by climatic change, a paradigm shift is needed in wheat breeding.

Objectives & approach

BreedWheat aims at producing a sequence-based tool box from the wheat genome that will enable a breakthrough in marker development and mapping (more than 2 billion data points), and combine this with a large and ambitious phenotyping program (>70’000 plots in 15 locations over 9 years) to:

(1) Decipher the genetic and ecophysiological basis of abiotic and biotic stress tolerance, yield components, and quality by large scale association genetics studies;

(2) Expand and facilitate the use of original genetic resources to increase allelic variability in the elite wheat gene pool;

(3) Evaluate and integrate new and innovative breeding methods to select improved bread wheat varieties that meet the needs of breeders, growers, and consumers  thereby enabling a competitive and sustainable wheat production in France; and

(4) Provide new bioinformatics tools and databases to efficiently perform association genetics studies and disseminate the results of the project to scientists, breeders, growers, and consumers.

Impact

BreedWheat will contribute to a better understanding of the molecular basis of important traits such as nitrogen use efficiency, water use efficiency, tolerance to biotic and abiotic stress, feed and food quality, and yield through the identification of regions carrying genes and QTL for those traits.

It will help to place wheat on the same level with other crops such as maize and soybean by enabling efficient molecular-based improvement that reduces the time from trait discovery to commercialization.

Moreover, BreedWheat will be developed in parallel to other international initiatives and particularly the WHEAT program developed by CIMMYT and ICARDA, as well as the BBSRC WISP program. The collaboration with these partners will enable information, material, and skills exchange, as well as comparative analyses between genetic studies performed in winter and bread wheat programs. By enabling full coordination and synergy, duplication of efforts will be avoided, and efforts to meet the world challenge of improving wheat production will be done together. Other interactions will be developed notably with the Wheat Initiative lanched and supported by the G20 as well as the International Wheat Genome Sequencing Consortium, the IWGSC.

BreedWheat will help French farmers to address the challenge of delivering safe, high-quality, and health-promoting food and feed in an economically competitive, environmentally sensitive, and sustainable manner while improving yield and stability across different environments that are affected increasingly by climatic change.

BreedWheat will also allow to maintain the leadership of France in the international effort to sequence the wheat genome and produce genome-based resources to support molecular breeding. Thus, beyond its impact on the French economy, BreedWheat will have a worldwide impact and contribute to maintaining French leadership in wheat research, breeding, and farming.