Strategic Operating Plan

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The International Wheat Yield Partnership

Operational Plan

In November 2012, funding agencies and organizations from 20 countries agreed to work together to develop a strategic approach to supporting research that would lead to increasing the genetic yield potential of wheat[i]. This collaborative approach, the International Wheat Yield Partnership (IWYP), builds on the Wheat Yield Consortium established by CIMMYT and contributes to the global Wheat Initiative[ii], which was sponsored by G20 Agriculture Ministers to establish strategic research priorities and international collaboration across all aspects of wheat research. As an independent Associated Programme of the Wheat Initiative, IWYP takes lead responsibility for delivering one of the four core themes of the Wheat Initiative’s ‘Strategic Research Agenda’.

  • Need and Rationale for IWYP

    Globally, wheat is the most important staple crop providing 20% of daily calories and protein. By 2050 the global population is predicted to surpass 9 billion and thus wheat demand is expected to increase by approximately 70%. To meet this demand, annual potential wheat yield increases must grow from the current level of below 1% to at least 1.7%. IWYP was formed as a new and more coordinated approach to address the challenge of raising the genetic yield potential of wheat by up to 50% in the coming two decades to meet this impending need.

    The IWYP goal of increasing the genetic yield potential of wheat by up to 50% is exceptionally challenging. It requires a strategic and collaborative approach to enable the best scientific teams from across the globe to work together in an integrated research Program that is both dedicated to and focused on delivering tangible and practical outputs to breeding programs worldwide. Whilst a number of large global and national programs exist, most are focused on combatting stresses and diseases thereby protecting current yields and few are focused on increasing wheat yield potential per se.  IWYP research outputs will provide novel genetic resources for wheat breeders throughout the world to as a new ‘raw material’ to develop higher yielding varieties adapted to local environments.

    Recent developments in scientific methodologies and new technologies have led to an unprecedented increase in our understanding of many aspects of plant science. When combined with the urgent need to increase crop yields, it is now timely to address the challenge of increasing wheat yields by developing an integrated research program focused on the genetics underpinning yield potential traits. The renewed interest from the private sector in wheat research and commercialization underlines the timeliness and need for such a program.

  • IWYP’s Vision

    IWYP encompasses an applied research Program that will deliver genuine outcomes in terms of novel traits and germplasm and thus new elite genotypes to breeders. IWYP represents an integrated, multi-disciplinary, research Program involving a combination of public and private funded research and in-kind support, and where possible aligned with other current relevant research programs and projects.

    IWYP will address the challenge of increasing the genetic yield potential of wheat by a targeted approach which includes the identification and subsequent validation of sources of genes and/or combinations of genes that are likely to influence wheat yield. Studies will be conducted to understand the genetic and physiological basis of increasing yield potential through the development of new models and wheat ideotypes in relevant breeding germplasm.

    Many of the most powerful innovations for plant breeding have come from branches of science outside plant biology. Research outputs from other plant species may also provide valuable information for wheat improvement. IWYP will continually survey the outputs from other relevant research programs and form new research linkages when appropriate.

  • IWYP Research Program Scope

    The focus of IWYP is genetic wheat yield potential. Specific areas of research initially target increasing grain yield through fixation of more carbon into biomass via photosynthesis and transferring more carbon into seeds during senescence, while protecting the plants from lodging.

    • Increasing the efficiency of carbon fixation: Photosynthetic capacity, efficiency and carbon fixation into useful biomass are known bottlenecks to raising productivity potential in many crop plants. The photosynthetic rate in crop canopies is correlated with biomass yield and grain yield in a multitude of environments, provided that other constraints do not become limiting. Even small increases in the efficiency of net photosynthesis could translate into large increases in biomass and potentially grain yield, since carbon assimilation by the crop canopy is integrated over the entire growing season. Mobilization of starch to the grain and grain development are key factors as changes to biomass will requires a modified partitioning in order to maintain the same harvest index. Photosynthesis in the spike during grain development is also significant.
    • Biological routes to increase photosynthetic capacity, efficiency and biomass: Increasing ear photosynthesis, optimizing canopy photosynthesis, introducing chloroplast CO2 pumps, increasing RuBP regeneration, improving the thermal stability of RuBisCo activase to sustain full activation of RuBisCo, and even replacing wheat RuBisCo with that from other species with different kinetic properties are all potential routes that should be investigated. Any such innovations will need to be coupled with resistance to lodging, biotic stresses and optimal harvest indices to ensure high grain yield gains and agronomic suitability. An additional understanding of underpinning developmental biology for grain development may also be necessary to maximize potential yield gain.
    • Exemplar projects: To deliver the ultimate aims of IWYP will require a combination of discovery and applied projects, each orientated towards the overall end goal of developing new models and ideotypes for wheat lines with improved yield potential. Six key project areas have been identified which are being combined into an integrated Program:
      • Discovery of genetic variation in wheat that boosts the fixation of carbon into biomass for subsequent transfer to grains
      • Deployment of proven genes to boost carbon fixation and biomass production
      • Maximizing grain yields from enhanced carbon capture and biomass through optimizing plant phenology
      • Building elite lines for dispersal to other breeding programs
      • Taking advantage of discoveries coming from relatives of wheat and other species
      • Breakthrough enabling technologies to transform wheat breeding.
    • Cutting-edge technologies: Where appropriate IWYP should employ novel, cutting-edge technologies and build on recent advances in plant sciences. New tools and technologies will make it possible for the genetic analysis of complex traits to be performed in more powerful and successful ways. For example, new sequencing technologies have enabled genotyping and identification of novel QTLs to be performed much more rapidly and efficiently. Moreover, advances in phenomics and analysis of physiological traits have increased the feasibility of field-scale assessment of physiological traits.
    • Building on outputs from other Programs: During the early phases of IWYP, a hexaploid wheat genome reference sequence will be delivered. The comparative mapping of variant genotypes onto this reference sequence will enable better selection of parental diversity and the ability to explore and define different haplotype segments to provide markers for following preferred genetic variation in breeding programs. Moreover, comparative genomics using results from barley, rice and maize will be very informative for wheat. Transgenes are increasingly being identified that may have strong influence on relevant traits in wheat plants.
    • Modern bioinformatics and computational biology: This new power is allowing many of the aforementioned approaches and methodologies to be accomplished much more quickly, with increased precision and at a greater scale than has previously been possible. Progress in such innovations and systems of analysis are game-changing for plant breeding and will need to be monitored and integrated into the IWYP Program.
  • A Collaborative Approach to Research Funding and Delivery

    • The overarching IWYP goal is extremely challenging and complex, and cannot be easily realized by individual groups. Therefore, funders and research organizations have developed innovative mechanisms and funding scenarios to enable the best teams worldwide to work together in a holistic and coordinated IWYP Science Program where results and outputs from the different scientific strands, and projects funded by different streams, can be integrated together and generate added value.
    • To realize the vision of the overall Science Program, IWYP employs a variety of mechanisms and processes in the execution of its Strategic Plan:
      • Competitive Calls: IWYP will employ Competitive Calls for Research Proposals followed by international expert peer review to identify and support the highest caliber research in the defined areas to create the necessary breakthroughs via innovative, discovery projects. Selected projects will form the basis of the IWYP Program and research portfolio and pipeline.
      • In-kind support: Mechanisms have been developed to enable researchers, research providers, funding organizations and the private sector to participate in IWYP after the peer review process selects research projects. Such in-kind support will enable researchers and companies supported by existing mechanisms to contribute towards IWYP research projects or enable access by research partners to other research facilities.
      • A dedicated IWYP validation and development platform: The ‘IWYP Hub’ at CIMMYT will be responsible for building the innovations into elite adapted germplasm (prebreeding) for distribution, with the required supporting breeding tools, to other public and private breeding programs through its existing networks and collaborations. The IWYP Hub will utilize state-of-the-art marker assisted breeding and bioinformatics year-on-year to play this role effectively. Specific dedicated funding will sustain the IWYP Hub’s activities, management and coordination practices.
      • Aligned Projects: There exists a number of large research programs that are complementary to the overall aims of IWYP. These include: WHEAT[iii] (a CGIAR Program); Breedwheat[iv] (France): WISP[v] (UK); Triticeae CAP [vi](USA) and the Wheat Initiative[vii]. Mechanisms have been developed to enable relevant outputs from ongoing research programs and other individual relevant wheat research projects to be shared with IWYP, and vice versa, thereby adding value by aiding to maximize the outputs and impacts.
      • Private sector participation within IWYP: Significant benefit will be realized by participation of the private sector within IWYP. Increasing the genetic yield potential by 50% in the next 20 years is a common goal shared by all wheat breeders, public or private. This challenge is likely to be achievable only by sharing the challenge, the discovery processes necessary and many applications. The private sector is expert in planning and bringing new inventions to farmers in the shortest possible time. Depending on the size and company type, companies will have different interests within the overall IWYP pipeline and will have different resources to deploy. Opportunities and methods of engagement have been created to enable private sector involvement with IWYP.
      • Data sharing and management: IWYP is built on the principles of sharing of data, research material, equipment and facilities both within and between projects in order to reach breakthroughs cooperatively as rapidly as possible. There is integration at the level of aims and objectives, approaches and outputs. Funding has been made available to enable the effective sharing of resources and data management to meet IWYP’s goals. The IWYP Program Director, guided by the Scientific Advisory Committee have the responsibility for ensuring data sharing and management which will create further added value.
      • Training and skills: Innovative mechanisms have been developed that enable IWYP researchers, postdoctoral research assistants and students to learn new techniques and experience different research environments within the overall framework of IWYP.
      • Capacity building: IWYP assists in building critical mass overall in the area of yield potential. It is anticipated that researchers from other areas of plant science and other areas of bioscience, as well as other scientific disciplines, will be excited by the challenge and the scale of this ambitious Program thereby increasing the skill base for future generations of wheat research.
  • Governance and Management

    IWYP has developed and employed robust and fit-for-purpose governance and management practices that enable coordination, collaboration and cooperation whilst encouraging flexibility, openness and inclusivity. Key governance and management bodies include:

    • Science and Impact Executive Board (SIEB): Comprised of Funders, Private Sector Partners, and Research Providers. The SIEB has decision making responsibility and provides strategic direction and scientific oversight to IWYP.
    • Program Director: The IWYP Program Director has the responsibility for directing and integrating the science projects into a streamlined and cohesive Program and reporting to the Science and Impact Executive Board. The Program Director further manages the day-to-day administrative functions and operations of IWYP.
    • Scientific Advisory Committee (SAC): Chaired by the IWYP Program Director, the SAC Committee serves as an advisory body. It advise on aspects of integration of the outputs of competitively awarded research grants within IWYP Hub platform and other IWYP research activities.
  • IWYP Funding Strategy

    • Deriving maximum impact from the IWYP Program necessitates a long-term commitment of at least 5 to 10 years. Since it is unlikely that many organizations will be in a position to commit to a 10 year Program, IWYP will comprise a number of specific project areas that are initiated at different time-points throughout the 10 year period. Discrete project areas will also enable funders and research providers to deploy their resources more effectively and will help to minimize overall risk.
       
    • A long term research and development and accompanying funding strategy will raise the overall profile of IWYP thereby promoting interest and attracting potential investment from a variety of funders, including the private sector and other research providers. It should also serve to attract the participation of the best research teams worldwide.

 

[i] http://www.bbsrc.ac.uk/web/FILES/Resources/wheat-yield-network.pdf.
[ii] http://www.wheatinitiative.org/
[iii] http://wheat.org/
[iv] http://breedwheat.fr/
[v] http://www.wheatisp.org/
[vi] http://www.triticeaecap.org/
[vii] http://www.wheatinitiative.org/