Professor Ian and Dr Julie King's Research Group
The world's population is set to increase from seven to nine billion by 2040 to 2050 and it is predicted that we will have to produce 70 per cent more food than we do at present - just to maintain our present level of nutrition - which already includes one billion malnourished people and a further 100 million at near starvation level.
Globally, wheat is the leading source of vegetable protein in human food, having a higher protein content than either maize (corn) or rice, the other major cereals. In terms of total production tonnages used for food, it is currently second to rice as the main human food crop.
Wheat breeders in the UK and throughout the world are working on new wheat varieties that can meet the challenges of food production in the 21st century. However, due to modern breeding practises there is not sufficient genetic variation in modern wheat varieties to obtain the increases in yield required to meet demand, climate change or environmental requirements - such as heat and drought tolerance, water use efficiency and nutrient use efficiency. The introduction of new genetic variation into wheat, for breeders to exploit, is therefore of critical importance for global food production.
The focus of our research is aimed at transferring genetic variation and diversity into wheat from its distant relatives including species such as Thinopyrum bessarabicum, a species which grows in sand dunes and is highly salt tolerant. The wild relatives of wheat are of particular importance as they provide a vast and largely untapped source of genetic variation for most if not all agronomically important traits.
In very brief summary our research involves crossing wheat with its distant relatives. The resulting hybrid is then crossed continually back to the wheat parent until only a small piece of DNA from the distant relative remains. Wheat plants which carry a small segment of DNA from a distant relative which carries an important gene, for example a gene conferring disease resistance or drought tolerance, are then identified and exploited in breeding programmes. Technology exploited in our research includes, DNA sequencing, genetic markers, genetic mapping, map based cloning, comparative genomics, crossing (wide hybridisation), breeding, embryo culture, field trials, cytogenetic analysis.
Members of the research group: Dr Surhbi Mehra, Dr Csilla Nemeth, Dr Caiyun Yang, Mr Paul Kasprzak, Dr Emma Skipper, Mr Duncan Scholfield and Jonathon Aitkinson (graduate student)
Current research funding :
- Enhancing diversity in UK wheat through a public sector pre-breeding programme. BBSRC £1,515,388
- Developing tools for introgression into wheat where recombination is not possible. BBSRC £838,115
- The establishment and application of a forward genetic resource for the development of efficient breeding strategies in grass and cereals. BBSRC £800,000
We gratefully acknowledge financial support from the BBSRC
Publications in Refereed Scientific Journals
- King, I.P., Koebner, R.M.D., Reader, S.M. and Miller, T.E. (1991). Induction of a mutation in the male fertility gene of the preferentially transmitted Aegilops sharonensis chromosome and its application for hybrid wheat production. Euphytica 54: 33-39.
- King, I.P., Koebner, R.M.D., Schlegel, R., Reader, S.M., Miller, T.E. and Law, C.N. (1991). Exploitation of a preferentially transmitted chromosome from Aegilops sharonensis for the elimination of segregation for height in semi-dwarf bread wheat varieties. Genome 34: 944-949.