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Discovering what makes plants’ clocks tick and new work underway to make hybrid wheat a reality.

 

StatusChina

There’s growing interest in hybrid wheat and Dr Amir Ibrahim, a Texas A&M AgriLife Research wheat breeder in College Station, believes the time is right to make it available.

Ibrahim has been working toward the development of hybrid wheat varieties since 2013, but wheat breeders first began looking at hybridisation in wheat more than 50 years ago in the early 1960s, he said. “The price for wheat was so low, and the cost for the hybrid seed was too high at the time,” he said. “Today we have a better handle on the genes and better prices and availability of genomic tools.”

And it is something that is needed, Ibrahim said. Wheat production yield potential has been leveling off and “this is one way to break that barrier.”

The performance of the TAM varieties of wheat developed by AgriLife Research’s wheat breeding team has been improving across the state and into other states with diverse climates, providing a solid base of germplasm.

Under a Monocot Improvement Initiative grant by AgriLife Research, as well as funding from the Texas Wheat Producers Board, Ibrahim is working with the University of Nebraska-Lincoln to test more than 600 lines of hybrid wheat in Nebraska and Texas.

“Within five years, I hope we can have the first commercially available hybrid seed available for producers,” Ibrahim said.

He said in addition to the fieldwork, his team now has access to medium- to high-throughput genotyping, which will help them map the restoration genes and understand hybrid vigour at the molecular level. They are also screening the germplasm for the floral characteristics and for combining ability. With the next generation sequencing technology, Ibrahim said they may be able to select for performance traits that can result in higher biomass and yield, drought tolerance, consistent performance, quality, disease resistance and agronomic adaptation, vigorous root system and increased production in low-fertility conditions.

– Source: Texas A&M AgriLife Research

StatusJapan

A team of biologists at Nagoya University’s Institute of Transformative Bio-Molecules (ITbM) led by Narihito Nakamichi has uncovered that the clock genes produced by plants during the evening are regulated by clock proteins produced in the morning.

During the afternoon, plants ready themselves for the cold temperatures that follow sunset. In this manner, plants use their biological clock to respond beforehand to the changes in their surrounding environment that are caused by variation in time. “Since 2011, we have been trying to find the key factor that regulates the expression of the gene that is transcribed during the afternoon,” says Nakamichi. The group used Pseudo-Response Regulator 5 (PRR5), which is a clock gene of the model plant, Arabidopsis thaliana.

According to Nakamichi, they believed that CCA1, a clock protein generated during sunrise, binds to a specific DNA sequence involved in the expression of the target gene PRR5. They collected the CCA1 protein bound to DNA using Chromatin immunoprecipitation (ChIP), and analysed the DNA sequence by rapid DNA sequencing. They were able to identify that the PRR5 gene appears in the regulatory region at a high frequency, and data suggested that the CCA1 protein directly acts towards the regulatory region of the PRR5 gene and has a major effect on it.

The research group also found the target DNA region of the CCA1 clock protein in the plant cell’s chromosome. “We found many genes that are expressed in the evening nearby the DNA region that CCA1 binds to,” explains Nakamichi. Some of these genes are responsible for the plant’s responses to drought stress, transmission of the signals from the plant hormone, abscisic acid, regulation of the opening and closing of stomata, and production of wax. “The results of our studies suggest that the CCA1 protein induces these biological processes to occur at a specific time during the evening.”

– Source: Nagoya University

StatusAustralia

Scientists from The University of Queensland (UQ) in Australia are undertaking a world-first research into ancient wheats to ensure the crop’s future.

Queensland Alliance for Agriculture and Food Innovation’s Dr Lee Hickey said, “Modern breeding and a switch to monoculture cropping has greatly improved yield and quality, but the lack of genetic variation has caused crops to become more vulnerable to new diseases and climate change.”

Adnan Riaz, UQ Ph.D. student, performed the world’s first genome-wide analysis of wheat seeds that were collected by the Russian scientist Nikolai Vavilov. Riaz examined a total of 295 diverse wheats using 34,000 DNA markers. The genomic analysis revealed a massive array of genes that are now absent in modern Australian wheat cultivars, and these ancient genes could offer valuable sources of disease resistance or drought tolerance.

The Hickey Lab offers the research community open-access to this resource, including the pure seed of the ancient wheats, along with DNA marker information. “We hope this will empower scientists and wheat breeders to rediscover genetic diversity lying dormant in our seed banks,” said Hickey.

– Source: The University of Queensland

StatusThe Philippines

The International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-Biotech Applications (ISAAA) has released its annual report detailing the adoption of biotech crops, “20th Anniversary of the Global Commercialization of Biotech Crops (1996-2015) and Biotech Crop Highlights in 2015,” showcasing the global increase in biotech hectarage from 1.7 million hectares in 1996 to 179.7 million hectares in 2015. This 100-fold increase in just 20 years makes biotechnology the fastest adopted crop technology in recent times, reflecting farmer satisfaction with biotech crops.

Since 1996, 2 billon hectares of arable land―a massive area more than twice the landmass of China or the United States―have been planted with biotech crops. Additionally, it is estimated that farmers in up to 28 countries have reaped more than US$150 billion in benefits from biotech crops since 1996. This has helped alleviate poverty for up to 16.5 million small farmers and their families annually totaling about 65 million people, who are some of the poorest people in the world.

“More farmers are planting biotech crops in developing countries precisely because biotech crops are a rigorously-tested option for improving crop yields,” said Clive James, founder and emeritus chair of ISAAA, who has authored the ISAAA report for the past two decades. “Despite claims from opponents that biotechnology only benefits farmers in industrialised countries, the continued adoption of the technology in developing countries disproves that” James added.

For the fourth consecutive year, developing countries planted more biotech crops (14.5 million hectares) than industrialised countries. In 2015, Latin American, Asian and African farmers grew biotech crops on 54 per cent of global biotech hectarage (97.1 million hectares of 179.7 million biotech hectares) and of the 28 countries that planted biotech crops, 20 were developing nations. Annually, up to 18 million farmers, 90 per cent of whom were small, resource-poor growers in developing countries, benefited from planting biotech crops from 1996 to 2015.

“China is just one example of biotechnology’s benefits for farmers in developing countries. Between 1997 and 2014, biotech cotton varieties brought an estimated $17.5 billion worth of benefits to Chinese cotton farmers, and they realised $1.3 billion in 2014 alone,” explained ISAAA Global Coordinator, Randy Hautea.

Also in 2015, India became the leading cotton producer in the world with much of its growth attributed to biotech Bt cotton. India is the largest biotech cotton country in the world with 11.6 million hectares planted in 2015 by 7.7 million small farmers. In 2014 and 2015, an impressive 95 per cent of India’s cotton crop was planted with biotech seed; China’s adoption in 2015 was 96 per cent.

“Farmers, who are traditionally risk-averse, recognise the value of biotech crops, which offer benefits to farmers and consumers alike, including drought tolerance, insect and disease resistance, herbicide tolerance, and increased nutrition and food quality,” Hautea added. “Moreover, biotech crops contribute to more sustainable crop production systems that address concerns regarding climate change and global food security.”

– Source: ISAAA website

StatusEthiopia

A pioneering analysis of selected varieties of Ethiopian durum wheat has revealed a fresh source of genetic diversity, which could allow crop breeders to create new varieties more resilient to climate change-induced stresses.

The study, published in the Plant Biotechnology Journal and undertaken by scientists in Italy and Ethiopia, was unprecedented in its scale, methods of analysis, and focus.

By evaluating hundreds of domesticated, locally adapted varieties (landraces) of durum wheat – many identified and conserved by local farmers – and performing detailed genetic characterisations at the molecular level, the scientists discovered that the variety in outwardly expressed traits such as plant growth, morphology, resistance to pests and productivity correlated specifically with diversity at the genome level.

The results indicate an especially high level of genetic diversity for Ethiopian durum wheat compared with durum wheat cultivated elsewhere, suggesting that it could provide an important, as yet unexplored source of durum wheat diversity.

This is significant because this important global crop is suffering a reduction in its genetic diversity, which has resulted in a limited gene pool from which to breed new varieties. Yet new varieties are critically needed to ensure adaptation to weather-related and pathogenic stresses brought about by climate change, which threatens the productivity of durum wheat in Europe and elsewhere.

A fresh source of genetic material from which to breed new, adapted lines of durum wheat is therefore an exciting discovery.

“This study is a breakthrough in agricultural research. It shows the potential of genetic diversity to enhance resilience to climate change and productivity and should generate optimism about the future. It also shows how using state-of-the-art technologies together with traditional wisdom can be conducive to more valuable results than when research is done in isolation,” says Carlo Fadda, Bioversity International Country Representative in Ethiopia and key contributor to the research.

The results provide a clear indication of the uniqueness and comparatively high genetic diversity of the Ethiopian wheat. They also represent a first step towards the conservation and sustainable valorisation of Ethiopian durum wheat landraces, which could secure the livelihoods of local farmers as well as the stability of the global durum wheat market.

– Source: Bioversity International

StatusChina

The cotton bollworm (Helicoverpa armigera) is an important pest of cotton causing great losses in production. To develop resistant cotton varieties, Zhen Yue and researchers from the China Agricultural University cloned the gene encoding for neuropeptide F (NPF) from cotton bollworm.

The npf gene was found to regulate feeding behavior of cotton budworm. Knock-down of larval npf using dsNPF resulted in decreases of food consumption and body weight. The researchers then produced transgenic tobacco plants expressing dsNPF and transgenic cotton plants with stably expressed dsNPF. Results showed that larvae that fed on the transgenic plants had lower food consumption, body size and body weight compared to controls.

The results indicate that NPF could be useful in the control of feeding of H. armigera and for the production of potential transgenic insect resistant cotton.

– Source: Plant Biotechnology Journal

StatusIsrael

The reproduction process is essentially the same in humans, animals and most plants. Both female and male organisms are required to contribute to the phenomenon.

A new joint Tel Aviv University–Freiburg University study offers an alternative: the discovery of a genetic trigger for the development of offspring without cross-fertilisation—in moss. It identifies and explores the master genetic switch for self-reproduction in the moss Physcomitrella patens.

According to the new study, the BELL1 gene triggers a pathway of genes that facilitate embryo development without fertilisation to form fully functional adult moss plants.

The research was led jointly by Nir Ohad, director of the Manna Center Program for Food Safety and Security at TAU’s George S. Wise Faculty of Life Sciences, and Ralf Reski of the University of Freiburg. It was recently published in Nature Plants.

“The knowledge gained from our research may help to modernise agriculture, allowing us to clone certain important plants and distribute their seeds to farmers,” said Ohad. “Moss possesses both egg cells and motile sperm, and as such, serves as a simple model plant to understand self-fertilisation processes. Our results explain at the molecular level how asexual reproduction—known as parthenogenesis or apomixes—has evolved. In these processes, genetically identical plants are formed.”

StatusCanada

Canada’s National Farmers Union (NFU) has written to Canadian Agriculture and Agri-Food Minister Lawrence MacAulay asking him to take immediate action to stop Forage Genetics International from selling genetically modified alfalfa seed in Canada this spring. The NFU also asked the minister to put border controls in place to prevent importation of “contaminated” conventional alfalfa seed from the United States.

The Alberta Association of Municipal Districts and Counties passed a resolution to prevent the introduction of GM alfalfa into Alberta until there is market and consumer acceptance, noted Peter Eggers, NFU Region 8 Coordinator.

Roundup Ready alfalfa seed—created and marketed by Forage Genetics International—is now available commercially in the United States. It’s also approved for sale in Canada as well, but FGI has made the decision to hold off on commercial sales of the herbicide-tolerant genetically modified alfalfa, despite the fact that it was granted full food, feed and environmental approval by the Canadian Food Inspection Agency in 2005.

Heather Kerschbaumer, president of Forage Seed Canada, has applauded the AAMDC’s resolution. She fears that those export markets will be lost if GM alfalfa is grown in Western Canada. In 2015, she lost a sale of clover seed to Europe due to the presence of some GM canola seeds in the shipment, despite the fact it was certified organic.

“Until the rest of the world accepts GMO crops, why would we want to totally abandon our export markets?” she says. “We’re not opposed to the technology, we just don’t want to be contaminated. But how do you build a wall to ensure contamination doesn’t happen?”

– Source: National Farmers Union

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