Attention farmers! Australian researchers have identified a naturally occurring wheat gene that, when turned off, eliminates self-pollination, but still allows cross-pollination - opening a way for breeding high-yielding hybrid wheat.
According to the University of Adelaide researchers, this discovery and the associated breeding technology have the potential to radically change the way wheat is bred in Australia and across the world.
"Wheat is the world's most widely grown crop, delivering around 20 percent of total food calories and protein to the world's population," said study author Dr Ryan Whitford from the University of Adelaide's school of agriculture, food and wine.
"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 percent yield boost relative to conventionally bred varieties that are currently on the market," Whitford added.
Hybrid wheats result from crosses between two carefully selected pure wheat lines.
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.
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, the researchers stated.
"The pollination gene is 'biologically contained' to the breeding process and does not make its way past the grandparent stage in producing the end-user hybrid seed," noted another researcher Dr Marc Albertsen.
"This identified pollination gene is the key step for a similar technology for wheat and could dramatically increase the efficiency of hybrid wheat seed production," Albertsen explained.
The research appears in the journal Nature Communications.