Australian researchers have identified a naturally occurring wheat gene that, when turned off, eliminates self-pollination but still allows cross- pollination, opening the way for high-yielding hybrid wheats.
The discovery and the associated breeding technology have the potential to radically change the way wheat is bred internationally, researchers said.
"Wheat is the world's most widely grown crop, delivering around 20 per cent of total food calories and protein to the world's population," said Ryan Whitford, from the University of Adelaide.
"But to meet increased food demand from predicted global population growth, its production needs to increase by 60 per cent by 2050, said Whitford.
"One of the most promising options to meet this demand is for farmers to grow hybrid wheat varieties, which can offer a 10 to 15 per cent yield boost relative to conventionally bred varieties that are currently on the market," he said.
Hybrid wheats result from crosses between two carefully selected pure wheat lines, researchers wrote in the study published in the journal Nature Communications.
The challenge to produce hybrid wheat, however, is in the breeding and commercial multiplication of the hybrid parent seed. Wheat is a self-pollinator while the production of hybrid seed requires large-scale cross-pollination.
"Hybrids are widely used for the cereals maize (or corn) and rice but developing a viable hybrid system for bread wheat has been a challenge because of the complexity of the wheat genome, said Whitford.
"We have now identified a gene necessary for cross- pollination in wheat which can be used in large-scale, low- cost production of parent breeding lines necessary for hybrid wheat seed production," he said.
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