About the Wheat Flagship

About the Wheat Flagship

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Canada is a major wheat-producing nation, offering premium quality grain to the world. On average, Canadian farmers plant over 10 million hectares annually, amounting to 26 million tonnes of grain - 95% of which is in the Prairies. However, wheat is often not a crop of choice for farmers due to the relatively low returns compared with other crops. Further investment in this crop will lead to improvements in Canadian wheat, making the crop more profitable and competitive.  The goal of the 11 years Canadian Wheat Alliance (CWA) between the University of Saskatchewan Crop Development Centre (CDC), Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada (AAFC), and the National Research Council of Canada (NRC) is to develop sustainably profitable wheat varieties for Canadian farmers that will enable them to be globally competitive.The targeted specifications for new Canadian spring and winter wheat varieties include: increase rate of yield improvement while maintaining quality, increase resiliency to biotic (diseases) and abiotic stress (environmental), including nitrogen use efficiency.

CWA Program

Wheat research and variety development has been a priority for the University of Saskatchewan CDC and AAFC for decades, and researchers and breeders have made many improvements interms of yield, agronomic performance, disease, and pest resistance, all accomplished while maintaining high quality and protein content, which is one of Canada's significant competitive advantages.

The wheat genome is highly complex and very large, and these complexities have always presented challenges in breeding and understanding the effect of genotype on phenotype. Increases in the application of genomics technologies to crop research have enabled a better understanding of plant mechanisms and pathways. Many crops, including corn, soy, and canola, have seen major advances over the last decade in productivity and performance. Wheat, however, has shown a flatter improvement curve, at about 1% yield improvement per year, due both to its genetic complexity and the size of its genome, which is five times larger than that of the human genome, and to the quality and disease requirements that must be met before a new variety maybe registered for commercialization in Canada.

Genomics and marker development are key components of a successful strategy to advance wheat genetic enhancement. NRC's expertise and capacity in molecular genetics, genomics, and development of breeding tools including doubled haploidy and markers will be deployed in collaboration with AAFC and the CDC to provide resources towards wheat genomics and the elucidation of the genetic puzzle of this important crop. Resulting advances will be incorporated into Canadian wheat breeding programs, and thus accelerate the development for wheat.

CWA Projects

Activities within CWA will fall into three major research themes (structured into six projects) that have emerged from discussions with key stakeholders. These activities address gaps in the current variety development pipeline. These themes/projects are:

  1. Accelerating Variety Development 
    1. Genomics Assisted Breeding (GAB)
      1. Improved genomic resources for faster gene discovery, mapping and introgression
      2. Novel trait identification and validation
      3. Trait-specific markers to accelerate variety development
    2. Wheat Improvement through Cell Technologies (WICT)
      1. Efficient doubled haploidy system for multiple genotypes
      2. Application of genetic editing (non-GM) methods to wheat improvement
  2. Sustainable Yields - Coping with Variable Climates
    1. Enhancing Fusarium and Rust Tolerance (EFRT)
      1. Pathogen genomics and mechanistic characterization of cloned resistance genes
      2. Breeding for durable Fusarium and rust resistance
      3. Development of biochemical and molecular breeding tools to improve resistance
    2. Increased tolerance to abiotic stresses (Abiotic Stress)
      1. Improvement of water usage efficiency: drought and heat
      2. Improvement of cold tolerance
  3. Increased Productivity and Sustainable Profitability
    1. Genetic Improvement of Performance and Yield (Development)
      1. Understanding seed development in wheat sustainably higher-yielding wheat
      2. Discovery of genes associated with performance and seed yield
    2. Beneficial Biotic Interactions (BBI)
      1. Enhanced nutrient use efficiency (nitrogen and phosphorous)
      2. Modified microbial communities for enhanced plant health