Genetic discovery to improve wheat yields and increase protein content by up to 25%

Australia—Researchers from the University of Adelaide and the UK’s John Innes Centre have identified a genetic driver that enhances wheat production attributes while also increasing protein content by up to 25%.

Despite being acknowledged as a globally important cereal, “Little is known about the mechanism behind drivers of yields and protein content in wheat production,” said lead researcher, Dr. Scott Boden.

“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 percent 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 research is the first to use a forward-genetics screen of a mutant population to identify a gene that controls wheat reproductive development.

 Insights from the research findings offer the potential to improve the nutritional and economic value of wheat.

The researchers identified semidominant alleles which generate more flower-bearing spikelets, which they inadvertently discovered enhanced protein content.

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“The genetic variant we identified provides a 15-25 percent 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 seen an increase in yield from the extra spikelets, but we’re hoping for one in elite varieties grown by farmers,” he added.

According to the researchers, the increase in protein content occurs without compromising crop yield.

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So, this discovery has even better potential to provide economic benefit to breeders and growers than just the increased nutritional value by itself.

The researchers also expect the results to be of value to the scientific community.

Dr. Boden adding that, “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 team expects that the new wheat varieties will be available to breeders in 2–3 years’ time, and from there, could translate to benefits for farmers in 7–10 years’ time.

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