According to scientists at Rothamsted Research, global wheat production can be doubled, allowing it to feed the world’s growing population without increasing the acreage. The condition is the genetic improvement of one of the most popular crops in the world.
According to Dr. Mikhail Siemionow, one of the research leaders of the Rothamsted Research agricultural experimental station based in England, global wheat production can be doubled by genetically upgrading local wheat varieties – without increasing the area under cultivation. Current wheat varieties “are only halfway on average in terms of the yield they could produce given the mismatch between their genetics and the local wheat growing conditions,” he said.
To reach such conclusions, British researchers conducted millions of simulations to design wheat perfectly suited to specific conditions. After comparing them with the locally adapted varieties, they found that the current varieties of wheat performed worse in terms of yield.
Why do scientists want to modify wheat
Rothamsted Research scientists used existing data on how different genes contribute to specific plant traits such as size, shape, metabolism and growth in their simulations. Dr. Nimai Senapati believes that correcting the “genetic yield gap” would not only help to feed the world’s increasing population, but also reduce the conversion of wild habitats to farmland.
Optimization of characteristics such as tolerance and response to drought and heat stress, and the size of light-capturing leaves would improve the situation.
The study covered 53 wheat growing regions in 33 countries. The team first calculated the potential yield from 28 commonly grown wheat varieties at each of these sites, assuming the best growing conditions for each. Effect? Harvest varies greatly: less than four tonnes per hectare in Australia and Kazakhstan and 14 tonnes per hectare in New Zealand. Rothamsted Research simulations show that in regions where the lowest crop is currently harvested, it could be increased by 51 percent.
– Wheat was first “domesticated” about 11 thousand. years ago. Despite this, the cultivation is still far from being “genetically best” – says Siemionow.
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