These varieties, identified from the four lakh accessions held with NBPGR or the national gene bank, would help deal with variations in temperatures, rainfall and alternations in climate conditions witnessed during the last few years.
To start with, new wheat varieties developed through identifying around 2000 core genes from 25,000 accessions have been tested in hotspots such as Gurdaspur (Punjab), Cooch Behar (Haryana) and Issapur farm (Delhi), in a move prior to transferring them to state-owned breeders for multiplication for seed development purposes. These core genes are capable of capturing various genetic traits available in the bank.
This assumes significance because due to rising demand, the country needs to increase wheat production gradually. In 2012-13, the country produced 92 million tonne of wheat.
However according to an official with Karnal-based Directorate of Wheat Research (DWR), fluctuations in temperature and possibility of yellow rust attack pose a challenge for scientists to sustain and increase wheat production at the current level.
We are evaluating the performance of core genes thro-ugh field trials before transferring it to breeders for further multiplication, KC Bansal, director, NBPGR, told FE.
The trials in Gurdaspur are focussing on the varieties of the deadly yellow rust which impacts the wheat crop virtually every year. The experimentation at Cooch Behar is focussed on dealing with blight and the gene bank's own farm at Issapur is working on developing heat tolerant varieties.
The seed breeder with the Indian Council for Agricultural Research (ICAR) has been invited to visit the field trial spots for evaluating performance.
Currently, according to regulations, the germplasm held with the gene bank is only shared with state-owned research institutes.
Similar experimentation on developing a core rice gene is also being undertaken by the gene bank Of the total collection of germplasm with the genebank, about 90,000 belongs to rice varieties. Others include wheat (25,000), vegetables (24,000), oilseeds (55,000) and pulses (50,000). The traits of these crops are kept in a genebank in the form of seeds.
NBPGR has collected genes of around 1,500 crop species, including ornamental, oilseeds and medicinal. But the majority of them, which are critical to food and nutritional security, will be around 15-20.
The bureau has prioritised 15 categories, including rice, wheat, maize, pearl millet, finger millet, chick pea, mustard, okra, brinjal and mango, for gene preservation initiatives.
The bank had started the exercise of collecting germplasm in 1976-77 from all over the country. In 1996-97, the premier institute collected the highest number of germplasms (close to one lakh) under a mission-mode programme.
Top agricultural scientists associated with the characterisation drive by the gene bank say the purpose was to help breeders in providing them with large genetic variability which helps in quality seed development.