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Heat-Tolerant Wheat Will Withstand Global Warming
April 10, 2013

April 9, 2013

Washington State University will lead a new effort to develop wheat varieties that are better at tolerating the high temperatures found in most of the world’s growing regions — temperatures that are likely to increase with global warming.

The research will be supported by the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), the Indian Council of Agricultural Research (ICAR) and the Directorate of Wheat Research (DWR), USAID said in an April 8 news release. It is part of the U.S. government’s global hunger and food security initiative, Feed the Future.

Researchers aim to have their first set of climate-resilient varieties in five years. The research will focus on the North Indian River Plain, which is home to nearly 1 billion people and faces challenges such as limited water and rising temperatures, said Kulvinder Gill, project director and the Vogel Endowed Chair for Wheat Breeding and Genetics.

Gill said that while the effort is critical to support food security, the results will reach far beyond the North Indian River Plain. More broadly, they will contribute to Feed the Future and partners’ efforts to address global food security more efficiently and effectively, particularly with respect to the challenge of global climate change, limited resources and a growing population.

“The newly developed ‘climate-resilient’ cultivars will be better equipped to deal with these challenges,” he said, adding, “The project will benefit all wheat-growing regions of the world, as heat during flowering is an issue in most of the wheat-growing regions.”

The researchers will combine conventional breeding and newly developed breeding tools to identify genes or sets of genes associated with heat tolerance, a rarely studied trait with an outsized importance in yields. A wheat plant’s productivity falls off dramatically when temperatures rise above 28 degrees Celsius, as each rise of a few degrees above that in a plant’s flowering stage cuts yields by up to 4 percent. Flowering results in the plant setting its seed, which is the part ultimately harvested and milled for food.

Support from USAID will leverage more than $11 million from other partners and fund research at WSU and project-related activities in India, Gill said. The effort will include a team of researchers from Kansas State University, the seed manufacturer and processor DuPont Pioneer, and two national institutes (Directorate of Wheat Research and National Bureau of Plant Genetics Resources), four universities (CCS Meerut University, GB Pant University, Punjab Agricultural University and Rajendra Agricultural University) and two private companies in India.

As many as 35 doctoral students and 30 postdoctoral or research fellows will also be involved in the effort.

Feed the Future is the U.S. government’s global hunger and food security initiative. With a focus on smallholder farmers, particularly women, it supports partner countries in developing their agricultural sectors to spur economic growth that increases incomes and reduces hunger, poverty and undernutrition.

More information on Feed the Future can be found on the initiative’s website.