BREEDWHEAT: 39 M€ ($55m USD) Secured in France for Long-Term Wheat Genomics to Breeding Program

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Investments of 39 M€ ($55m USD) in France for long-term wheat genomics to breeding project, BREEDWHEAT, will help ensure sufficient supplies of wheat for current and future generations. The public-private project will combine genome sequence-based tools and new methodologies for breeding wheat varieties with improved quality, sustainability, and productivity.

"Our goal is focused singularly on accelerating genetic gain to create new, high-yielding, wheat varieties that will meet current and future global challenges in wheat production," stated BREEDWHEAT project leader Catherine Feuillet.

Valérie Pécresse, the French Minister of Research and Higher Education, Bruno Le Maire, the French Minister of Agriculture, and René Ricol, the Director of the French Stimulus Initiative (Investissements d’Avenir) have announced a 9 M€ ($12.6 million USD) grant for the BREEDWHEAT project, a long-term public-private research initiative coordinated by Catherine Feuillet from INRA-GDEC. In total, 39 M€ is being invested over 9 years by 26 French partners, including 11 private companies, to develop and use efficient genome sequence-based tools and new methodologies for breeding wheat varieties with improved quality, sustainability, and productivity
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Wheat faces major global challenges due to increasing food demand at the same time that growers are called on to reduce environmental impacts of production, increase or maintain yield, and deal with new pests, diseases, and weather extremes resulting from a changing climate. Wheat production is not keeping pace with demand now and without major investments will not be able to meet the demands needed to feed more than 9 billion people in 2050.

In a first of its kind effort, project leader Feuillet stated that they are placing a strong emphasis on the combination of structural and functional genomics, genetics, and ecophysiology with high throughput phenotyping and genotyping to identify markers and genes underlying yield and quality traits under abiotic and biotic stress. Moreover, the BREEDWHEAT project will characterize and tap unexploited genetic resources to expand the diversity of the elite germplasm. Finally, new breeding methods will be developed and evaluated for their socio-economic impact. Most projects address a few of these areas but not all of them at the same time.

This long-term, broad approach will include sequencing of a wheat chromosome (1B), detection of new structural polymorphisms, large scale SNP production, genetic and physical mapping of 5,500 SNP markers, 48,000 phenotyping trials, and generation of 33 million genotyping data points for scientists and breeders to perform association genetics studies. 5000 wheat lines from INRA genetic stocks will be extensively characterized and used to identify new alleles to support a pre-breeding program aimed at developing varieties that can be directly exploited by the breeders. The efficiency and economic impact of various selection schemes will be assessed in a farm-scale breeding program. A robust bioinformatics platform enabling efficient association analyses and breeder friendly access to the data will also be established.

In addition to leading the BREEDWHEAT project, Feuillet is also at the forefront of the international effort to obtain a high quality, gold standard reference sequence of the bread wheat genome as a co-chair of the International Wheat Genome Sequencing Consortium (http://www.wheatgenome.org). Feuillet and her team completed the first physical map of a wheat chromosome, 3B, three times the size of the rice genome. Chromosome 3B is now being sequenced in an INRA-Genoscope collaboration through a grant from the French ANR and France Agrimer. In addition, Feuillet is leading a European effort, TriticeaeGenome, to complete physical maps of three additional chromosomes and develop markers, tools, and resources for breeders. With the BREEDWHEAT project, France will make another significant contribution to sequencing the wheat genome and will establish a wheat improvement pipeline from genomics to pre-breeding. BREEDWHEAT is developed in partnership with CGIAR centers CIMMYT and ICARDA to ensure knowledge transfer to programs addressing wheat production in the developing world.

According to Feuillet, “Our goal is focused singularly on accelerating genetic gain to create new, high-yielding, wheat varieties that will meet current and future global challenges in wheat production. By combining structural genomics with advanced pre-breeding activities, we believe we can help position wheat to meet the demands of the 21st century.”

About INRA (http://www.international.inra.fr/)
The French Institut National de la Recherche Agronomique (INRA) is ranked the number one agricultural institute in Europe and number two in the world after the US Department of Agriculture. INRA carries out mission-oriented research for high-quality and healthy foods, competitive and sustainable agriculture and a preserved and valorised environment.

About INRA-GDEC: The Joint Research Unit on Genetics, Diversity and Ecophysiology of Cereals (GDEC) in Clermont-Ferrand, France (https://www4.clermont.inra.fr/umr1095_eng) develops integrated research projects ranging from fundamental research on the composition, organization, and evolution of the wheat genome, integrative biology studies of key traits such as yield, grain composition and disease resistance, characterization of diversity and genetic resources, to the application of new methods and genomics tools for breeding new varieties.

Contact: Dr. Catherine Feuillet
Research Director, INRA-GDEC
(INRA Joint Research Unit on Genetics, Diversity and Ecophysiology of Cereals)
Clermont-Ferrand, France

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Catherine Feuillet
INRA-GDEC
+ 33 4 73 62 46 84
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