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£1.5m for wheat breeding research

Press release issued: 21 February 2011

A £1.5million grant for research into the next generation of molecular markers in wheat has been awarded to Professor Keith Edwards and Dr Gary Barker of the University of Bristol.

The grant is part of a £7 million LoLa (Longer and Larger) award from the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC) to several partners including the John Innes Institute, Rothamsted Research, the National Institute of Botany and Nottingham University.

The research will increase the diversity of traits available in wheat via a comprehensive pre-breeding programme – the first of its kind in the UK in over 20 years.  This project will play an important role in ensuring the sustainability of wheat production in the UK and beyond at a time when we are facing a growing global population and changing environment.

The various available genetic backgrounds for a particular species is referred to as germplasm. This project will identify new and useful genetic variation from ancient sources of wheat germplasm to accelerate the genetic improvement of modern UK wheat for the benefit of UK farming.

Through free and open international collaboration, including the coordination of similar initiatives currently being planned across the world, the resources and knowledge generated in this project will contribute to global food security.

The Bristol team will be responsible for producing the next generation of molecular markers which are essential for UK breeders to develop new wheat varieties capable of generating high yields in the face of climate change.

The award to Professor Edwards and Dr Barker follows on from their recent, widely reported, announcement of the first public release of sequence covering 95 per cent of the wheat genome.

Professor Edwards said: “This award comes at a time when global food security is seen as one of the most immediate issues facing the human race.  We hope this award will enable UK researchers and breeders to work together to develop and deliver new varieties of wheat that should enhance the UK’s capacity to feed its increasing population and make an appropriate contribution to the growing problem facing the human race.”

David Willetts, Minister for Universities and Science, said: “Food security and sustainability are amongst the biggest challenges facing the world today, especially as the population continues to grow. I am delighted that for the first time in over 20 years UK scientists will be leading on such an important area of research. This investment has the potential to make a real difference to people and farmers, whilst at the same time increasing our body of scientific knowledge.”

Dr Celia Caulcott, Director of Innovation and Skills at the BBSRC said: “We are delighted that this group of researchers has considered at the earliest point how to ensure that opportunities are immediately taken to translate their work into products that can benefit the consumer and the economic growth of the UK.  Having the lines of communication firmly established at this stage offers a great vehicle for exchange of knowledge, ideas and technology as this project progresses.”

The wheat genome data has been made publicly available via EMBL/GenBank and CerealsDB for analysis and application.  Open access release of the data was a condition of the original BBSRC support for this project. 

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