Application of genomic-based technologies to improve the rate of genetic gain in Ontario winter wheat breeding


Agriculture & Food


Wheat (Triticum aestivum L.) is a staple food crop with an excess of 650 million tons of annual global production on more than 215 M ha of total harvested area. In Canada, wheat, with an annual production of more than 23 million tons, supports a Canadian farm industry of >$4.5B annually. Winter wheat production in Canada is primarily concentrated in Ontario, and mainly in South-western Ontario. With over 400,000 ha of annual harvested area, winter wheat produced in Ontario, accounts for more than 77% of total winter wheat production in Canada. A number of biotic and abiotic factors threaten the high productivity and quality of the Ontario winter wheat crop. Among the biotic yield-limiting factors, Fusarium head blight (FHB; caused mainly by Fusarium graminearum) has over the years been the most damaging disease in Ontario. In recent years there has been great progress made toward understanding genes in wheat. A recent major advancement was the release of a robust, high-quality annotated draft reference sequence of wheat. These advancements provide great opportunities for wheat scientists, including geneticists and plant breeders, to be able to improve the efficiency of genetic improvements in wheat. The ability to predict the performance of a given breeding line of wheat based on its DNA, has been shown to be one of the potential applications of genomics in plant breeding. This proposed research is designed to use the current state of knowledge in wheat genomics and genetics, to integrate genomic prediction in an active breeding program. The research team will also attempt to use state-of-the-art technologies of remote sensing to establish a high throughput system of remotely scanning and then identifying superior breeding lines. These technologies together with an accelerated breeding approach developed by the University of Guelph Wheat Breeding Program is expected to result in significant improvements in efficiency and speed of genetic gains in wheat breeding. Within 3 years of this project, we will have successfully developed new, advanced remote sensing analysis and diagnostic methods with the use of genomic technologies that will allow us to identify successful genetic lines that after additional field testing can be brought to market within the subsequent 2 years.


*This wheat breeding project was conceived and submitted by the late Prof. Ali Navabi, a professor in the Department of Plant Agriculture, who passed away March, 2019. Navabi joined U of G in 2008; since 2014, he held the Grain Farmers of Ontario (GFO) Professorship in Wheat Breeding. There he led and managed the very successful University of Guelph wheat breeding program, and was well known for his exceptional teaching and thoughtful guidance.