Wheat Breeder Cimmyt Works on Heat Tolerance for Asia

Grain breeder Cimmyt will use genetic mapping to develop heat-tolerant wheat for South Asia, in a project funded by the U.S. Agency for International Development to boost the crop’s resilience to climate change.

The five-year project with a budget of $5 million will allow crop breeders to pick the best varieties more quickly than through conventional breeding, the El Batan, Mexico-based International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center, known by its Spanish acronym Cimmyt, wrote in an online report.

Climate change reduced wheat yields from 1980 to 2008, with world production of the grain in the period 5.5 percent lower than it would have been without any change in temperatures and rainfall, U.S. researchers wrote in a 2011 study published in the journal Science.

“Incorporating genomic selection criteria into Cimmyt’s bread-wheat breeding pipe will significantly expedite wheat genetic gains,” Ravi P. Singh, head of the center’s bread-wheat program, was cited as saying in the statement.

About 1,000 wheat varieties developed by Cimmyt in Mexico were planted in India, Pakistan and Mexico to characterize them for heat tolerance, and the genetic mapping project will select the best candidates for testing and release in South Asia, the researcher said.

India is the world’s second-largest wheat grower after China, with a crop estimated at 94.9 million metric tons in 2012-13, equal to 14 percent of world production, International Grains Council data show. Pakistan was Asia’s third-largest producer with a crop of 23.3 million tons.

Singh and Jesse Poland, a geneticist with Kansas State University, are developing the gene-sequencing project with support from Cornell University, Cimmyt wrote.

Wheat developed through the project will have “enhanced climate resilience,” and the varieties’ hot-weather tolerance and yield potential will reduce heat-induced yield losses by 20 percent to 30 percent, according to the researcher.

(Corrects story originally published Jan. 14 to show funding is provided by USAID.)
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