13th International Wheat Genetics Symposium: A look at cutting-edge wheat research

John Bakum
Monday, May 15, 2017

The 13h International Wheat Genetics Symposium brought together over 500 researchers from around the world to Tulln Austria to highlight the latest developments in wheat genetics. Spread out over five days, the conference featured a diverse set of talks, from the history of wheat cultivation to cutting edge methods like genomic selection and CRSPR gene editing.

Reem Joukhader, presenting about wheat genetic diversity in Australia CREDIT: John Bakum

The opening day, April 24 featured welcoming messages from local organizers and a key note address from Helmut Haberi about the challenges agriculture is facing in the next 30 years to feed a growing population amid climate change. The remainder of the day featured topics about triticeae genetic improvement, harnessing diversity from wild ancestors of triticeae, and wheat genomics. Steven Xu, UDSA-ARS, presented and you can view his presentation from BGRI 2014: New germplasm development using synthetic and other approaches to transfer stem rust resistance from tetraploids to hexaploids. At the end of the first day, there was a special session updating the new rust races that have been discovered in Ethiopia and Sicily. Panelists discussed the races virulence and what might happen next.

The second day was mostly devoted to examination of the genetics of resistance to biotic (rust, blast, etc.) and abiotic (drought, heat, etc.) stresses. Breeding wheat with stronger resistance to both types of stresses is extremely important as new races of pathogens emerge and climate change causes more extreme weather cycles. This is the focus of the Delivering Genetic Gain in Wheat Project (link). The first presenter of the day was Beat Keller, University of Zurich, view his presentation at BGRI 2012: How has Lr34/Yr18 conferred effective rust resistance for so long? Also presenting was Eduard Akhunov, Kansas State University, view his presentation at BGRI 2011: New Tools for wheat genetics and breeding: Genome-wide analysis of SNP variation.

Wednesday, the third day, highlighted genetics of resource efficiency and a student session with five students presenting their research.

Maricelis Acevedo, presenting about the next phases of the BGRI CREDIT: John Bakum

The fourth day continued presentations regarding genetics of resource efficiency and a section about applying novel tools to practical wheat improvement. Some of the novel tools included genomic selection, molecular-assisted breeding, crop modelling, and nested association mapping.

The final day continued presentations about novel tools for practical wheat improvement including gene isolation and CRISPR technologies. The conference concluded with talks from Maricelis Acevedo about the next phase of the BGRI, a presentation from Ravi Singh updating the audience about the status of CIMMYT’s wheat program and its priorities, and a look at ICARDA’s wheat breeding program given by Wuletaw Tadesse.