ONRP3: Using genomics-based technologies to improve winter wheat breeding

Through a partnership between the University of Guelph and Grain Farmers of Ontario, wheat genomics and genetics knowledge are being used to integrate genomic prediction into their winter wheat breeding program and to identify superior breeding lines. 

Winter wheat production in Canada is primarily concentrated in Ontario, and mainly in Southwestern Ontario. With over 400,000 ha of annual harvested area, winter wheat produced in Ontario accounts for more than 77% of the total production in Canada. Several biotic and abiotic factors threaten the productivity and plant health quality of the winter wheat crop. 

One of the yield-impacting biotic factors is Fusarium head blight (FHB), which has caused economic losses to farmers since the 1980s. In recent years there has been great progress made toward understanding genes in wheat. These advancements provide great opportunities for wheat scientists, including geneticists and plant breeders, to improve the efficiency of genetic improvements in wheat. The ability to predict the performance of a given breeding line, based on its DNA, has been shown to be one of the potential applications of genomics in plant breeding.  

With funding from the ON-RP3 initiative, Dr. Elizabeth Lee is leading the U of G research team to use state-of-the-art remote sensing technologies, together with an accelerated breeding approach, to assess and improve the efficiency and speed of genetic gains in wheat breeding. This breeding approach was developed by the U of G Wheat Breeding Program, which was successfully managed by the late Dr. Ali Navabi, who initiated this research project before passing away in March 2019.    

Progress in the first year of the project has included the initial stages of phenotyping and genotyping for disease resistance and improved genetic gain. Upon project completion, the team hopes to have successfully developed the advanced remote sensing analysis and diagnostic methods with the use of genomic technologies that will allow for the identification of successful genetic lines. With an additional two years of field testing, the new breeding lines can be brought to market for Ontario wheat producers.  

ON-RP3 is a collaborative initiative between the Agricultural Adaptation Council, Ontario Genomics, and the Government of Canada through Genome Canada.