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Wheat research discovery could shape future crops

Copyright: CSIRO
News from: The John Innes Centre

A new study shows isolation of a gene controlling the shape and size of spikelets in wheat may help breeders deliver increased yields.

The findings discovered by the John Innes Centre gives breeders a new tool to accelerate the global quest to improve wheat, and also highlights a range of next generation techniques available for fundamental research into wheat.

Dr Scott Boden from the John Innes Centre, whose crop genetics laboratory led the study alongside colleagues from Australia and Cambridge, said it represented a breakthrough both in lab and field.

Copyright: CSIRO
Floral architecture in wheat. The spikelets highlighted in purple are the additional spikelets. Copyright: CSIRO

“The paper is an example of what we are capable of doing in wheat now with a lot of resources that are coming on board. We have gone from the field to the lab and back again. This is a developmental gene that contributes to a lot of agronomically important traits. This knowledge and the resources that come from this study can be used to see if it really does benefit yield.”

The team focused on the genetics of floral architecture behind a specific mutant trait in bread wheat, allowing two spikelets to be grown instead of the usual one. This trait could lead to an increase in yield and could apply to other major cereals including corn, barley and rice.

The genetic identification of the relevant trait represents a significant milestone in research on wheat; a crop with a notoriously complex genome.

The Wheat Initiative, which co-ordinates global research for wheat, had identified floral architecture as one of the key traits which must be improved if a 1.6% yield increase needed to feed a growing world population is to be reached.

Diversity of floral architecture has been exploited by generations of crop breeders to increase yields, and genetic variation for this trait has the potential to further boost grain production.

“We have approached this in an academic sense but we have moved it towards giving breeders tools they can work with to optimise floral development,” said Dr Boden.

The full findings are available in the paper: TEOSINTE BRANCHED1 Regulates Inflorescence Architecture and Development in Bread Wheat (Triticum aestivum L.).


About the John Innes Centre

The John Innes Centre is an independent, international centre of excellence in plant science and microbiology.

The mission is to generate knowledge of plants and microbes through innovative research, to train scientists for the future, to apply our knowledge of nature’s diversity to benefit agriculture, the environment, human health, and wellbeing, and engage with policy makers and the public.

To achieve these goals we establish pioneering long-term research objectives in plant and microbial science, with a focus on genetics.

The John Innes Centre is strategically funded by the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC).


The Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC) is part of UK Research and Innovation, a non-departmental public body funded by a grant-in-aid from the UK government.

BBSRC invests in world-class bioscience research and training on behalf of the UK public. Our aim is to further scientific knowledge, to promote economic growth, wealth and job creation and to improve quality of life in the UK and beyond.

Funded by government, BBSRC invested £469 million in world-class bioscience in 2016-17. We support research and training in universities and strategically funded institutes. BBSRC research and the people we fund are helping society to meet major challenges, including food security, green energy and healthier, longer lives. Our investments underpin important UK economic sectors, such as farming, food, industrial biotechnology and pharmaceuticals.

More information about BBSRC, our science and our impact.
More information about BBSRC strategically funded institutes.

Tags: food security crops genetics The John Innes Centre press release