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$2M to improve wheat yields for farmers across the world

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Scientists from the University of Liverpool have been awarded $2 million to lead international food security research into improving wheat yields through more efficient photosynthesis.

Globally, wheat is the most important staple crop, providing 20% of daily calories and protein for the world's population. Due to population growth and changing diets, wheat demand is expected to increase by 60% by 2050.

Efficient photosynthesis — the process by which plants convert sunlight into sugars for growth and storage — has been identified as a key approach to improve wheat crop yields.

Funded by the International Wheat Yield Partnership (IWYP), a research team from the UK, Australia and Mexico will characterise photosynthetic traits from diverse lines of wheat and combine this with next generation DNA sequencing to identify the genes associated with each trait.

Project lead Professor Anthony Hall, from the University's Centre for Genomic Research, said: "Such knowledge will enable combinations of these photosynthetic traits to be rapidly incorporated into breeding programmes aimed at improving crop performance.

"Moreover, identifying the genes and mutations responsible will provide an understanding of the biology underpinning these traits and our ability to use precision genome engineering tools in the future."

The three-year project combines diverse expertise in photosynthesis, genetics, wheat physiology and breeding from the University of Liverpool, Lancaster University, Australian National University and the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (CIMMYT).

Professor Hall adds: "What's really exciting for us is, through our partnership with CIMMYT, we can go from sequencing a genome to developing new breeding material for farmers across the world within this single project.

"This will allow us to rapidly realise the impact of our research while still addressing important scientific questions about wheat species' domestication and evolution."

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The IWYP was launched in 2014 and brings together research funders, international aid agencies, foundations, companies and major wheat research organisations with the goal of raising the genetic yield potential of wheat by up to 50% over the coming 20 years.

This project is one of eight that has been funded through its first competitive call. The total value of the funded research is around US$20M.

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