India, Aus join hands to increase wheat output

Written by ASHOK B SHARMA | New Delhi, Oct 11 | Updated: Oct 12 2007, 03:45am hrs
Scientists of two countries India and Australia have joined hands to work towards increasing the yield of wheat.

Wheat has posed problems to both the countries. In Australia wheat production in the current year declined due to drought. In India, though wheat production increased to about 75 million tonne there was a problem of procuring enough grains for the buffer stock and the country had to go for costly imports.

The Australian Centre for International Agricultural Research (ACIAR) and the Indian Council of Agricultural Research (ICAR) have jointly drawn up short and medium term strategies to increase the yield of wheat to an optimal level.

This joint collaboration is not for increasing the potential yield of wheat by increasing the photosynthesis to the level of C4 crops like sorghum and sugarcane. This will take considerable time. Therefore our efforts are now concentrated on increasing the yield to an optimal level by developing resistances to pests and diseases and several biotic and abiotic stresses, said ACIAR research programme manager Christian Roth.

Wheat yield in farmers fields in Punjab is about 3.2 tonne to 3.7 tonne per hectare, which is much below the demonstrated yield

The 10-member Australian team is currently on a visit to India. They visited wheat fields currently under sowing in Punjab and Haryana and are now discussing with Indian agri scientists about the implementation of the medium-term plan.

According to the medium-term work plan scientists would deploy genomic tools like quantitative trait loci (QTL) mapping of collective gene which can ensure heat tolerance, resistance to salinity, drought like conditions and water logging. Developing wheat crops, tolerant to heat is very important for India as the crop is grown in select regions having favourable temperature. Wheat crop suffered damaged in the past two due to sudden spurt in temperature before ripening.

We are at present not aiming at developing transgenic wheat. We would be deploying genomics tools for developing conventional wheat, said NK Sigh, principal scientist at the National Centre on Plant Biotechnology.

Another aspect of the programme is to identify single gene traits and go for gene tagging for developing resistance to diseases like Karnal Burnt, leaf rust. Alleles mining of cloned genes and gene pyramiding would be taken up to develop resistance to yellow and leaf rust. Mining blast resistance genes from wild species of rice would also be taken up.

Maker assisted selection (MAS) is expected to ensure development of crops with improved grains as well as with resistance to biotic and abiotic stresses.