In a world deeply concerned about our future ability to feed the planet’s ever-expanding population, news that scientists have found a way to increase wheat yields by 25 per cent is not only ground-breaking but potentially life-saving.
An international team of plant scientists has announced they had discovered a way to not only produce better quality wheat but lots more of it for the same inputs.
The scientists, from Adelaide University in Australia the UK’s John Innes Centre have identified a genetic driver that improves yield traits in wheat, which unpredictably can also lead to increasing protein content by up to 25 per cent.
“Little is known about the mechanism behind drivers of yields and protein content in wheat production,” says the University of Adelaide’s Dr Scott Boden, School of Agriculture, Food and Wine who led the research.
“Discovering a gene that controls these two factors has the potential to help generate new wheat varieties that produce higher quality grain.
“As wheat accounts for nearly 20 per cent of protein consumed worldwide, the impact of this research can significantly benefit society by providing grains with a higher protein content, which could therefore help produce more nutritious food, such as bread and breakfast cereals.”
The work, published in the peer-reviewed journal Science advances, is the a world-first example of research that uses a forward-genetics screen of a mutant population to identify a gene that controls reproductive development in wheat. The insights from this research have the potential to help improve the nutritional and economic value of wheat as well as help deal with the world’s food production shortfalls.
“The genetic variation we identified provides a 15-25 per cent increase in protein content for plants grown in the field. These varieties also produce extra spikelets, known as paired spikelets,” said Dr Boden.
“We have not yet detected an increase in yield with the extra spikelets, but we hope a yield increase might come in elite varieties grown by farmers.
“The increase in protein content occurs without the trade-off of a reduced yield so this discovery has even better potential to provide economic benefit to breeders and growers than just the increased nutritional value by itself.
“Aside from the important outcome of this work for the future of wheat breeding, the research itself is of immense value to the scientific community as it provides an elegant example of new capabilities that are available to wheat research.”
The new wheat varieties will be available to breeders in two to three years and the world’s farmers within seven to 10 years.