“Breeding wheat is difficult as its genome is massive – over five times that of humans – so it hasn’t yet been fully sequenced,” explains Chris Tapsell, from KWS, a global company that focuses on plant breeding. “In crops where sequencing data is available it is possible to more easily determine the genes that control a desired trait.
“We don’t yet have this information for wheat but what we do know is that some areas of DNA, called quantitative trait loci (QTL) are correlated to certain desirable features or phenotypes.
“The QTLs can be identified in the DNA sequence using molecular markers. If the markers are found in a particular plant this generally confirms that the desired trait is present.”
More recently, breeders have been studying a new tool that it’s hoped will further improve the efficiency of breeding and increase ‘Genetic Gain’ (the annual improvement in a trait such as yield).
Predicting a breeding value
This new technique is called genomic selection. Molecular markers across the whole of the wheat DNA are used to access a specific trait and give individual breeding lines a predicted ‘Breeding Value’, which is then used by the breeder for selection purposes. However, a vast amount of information is generated in this process and we need to make sure these predictions are robust.
Chris says: “The quantity of data required to prove these links are accurate are huge and expensive to collect, requiring complex analysis.
“We still need to show if this is cost effective in terms of the benefit over current rapid breeding methods.”
Professor Lars Østergaard from the John Innes Centre and Chris Tapsell will both be speaking about their work before the meeting takes on a ‘speed dating’ format allowing participants to discuss problems and solutions in relation to crop breeding.
You can read more about the discussions held at the Pollinator in the full report, which is available free to members on our Publications page.