A Cambridge reader wrote these words some time ago, sending a link to a BBC report saying that the Cambridge-based National Institute of Agricultural Botany scientists used cross-pollination and seed embryo transfer technology to transfer some of the resilience of the ancient ancestor of wheat into modern British varieties to produce a new strain.
The NIAB’s website adds:
“(The Institute) has recreated the original rare cross between an ancient wheat and wild grass species that happened in the Middle East 10,000 years ago. The result is a ‘synthetic’ wheat which, when crossed with modern UK varieties, could offer new sources of yield improvement, drought tolerance, disease resistance and input use efficiency”. . .
“The synthetic wheat programme involves crossing durum pasta wheat with wild goat-grass using traditional crossing techniques in the glasshouse combined with tissue culture in the research laboratory to guarantee seed germination. The resulting hybrid plants produce the ‘synthetic’ seed which is then used in crossing programmes with current varieties.
“Senior plant breeder Dr Phil Howell (opposite) says: “Based on early-stage trials, we’re confident that the performance gains and level of potentially valuable variation observed, through this novel step of re-synthesising the original wheat plant, points to a major transformation in the wheat improvement process.
“Yield increases of up to 30% have been produced in early field trials, despite the past few years being cold, wet seasons where lack of sunlight depressed yield”.
The BBC report notes, however, that it will take at least five years of tests and regulatory approval before the synthetic wheat is harvested by farmers.
For more information download NIAB’s Synthetic Hexaploid Wheat flyer here