The average yields of winter wheat achieved by Irish growers are amongst the highest globally. This is facilitated by the mild, wet climate and long summer days which results in slow crop development, and a long grain filling period rarely affected by drought. These optimal growth conditions also present challenges for disease control, with Mycosphaerella graminicola, the causal agent of Septoria tritici blotch (STB) being the biggest problem in Ireland. The emergence of fungicide insensitive strains of the pathogen and the reversal of protection product registrations from a risk-based to a hazard-based assessment, as per Regulation (EC) 1107/2009 means that breeding for resistance to STB in winter wheat for Ireland is urgently needed. As with all cereals, increasing the nitrogen (N) use efficiency of winter wheat is also an important breeding goal, especially in the context of stagnating yields and the necessity to reduce inputs to counter both low profit margins, and climate change.

VICCI is addressing both of these challenges in winter wheat through a combination of germplasm screening/phenotyping, and utilising this material in a multi-layered approach involving transcriptomics, metabolomics, targeted gene knockout and genome-wide association studies (GWAS) to develop genetic markers and germplasm to address these problems.

Specific strands of this research include:

  • Using the Multi-parent Advanced Generation Intercross (MAGIC) population developed at NIAB in the UK for GWAS to identify genes and QTL for NUE and STB-resistance traits
    Contact: John Spink and Petra Kock Applegren
  • Development of high energy grain wheat with low N requirements by miRNA knockdown of gliadin genes
    Contact: Charles Spillane
  • Identifying and validating candidate genes and genetic markers for STB-resistance in winter wheat via combines transcriptomics, metabolomics and VIGS-based gene silencing approaches.
    Contact: Ewen Mullins, Fiona Doohan and Angela Feechan