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Scientists gather in Mexico to improve wheat yields

March 4, 2013

OBREGON, MEXICO (5 March 2013) — Today began the third-ever meeting of the Wheat Yield Consortium, a unique group of scientists collaborating to dramatically increase wheat yields. The meeting is being held in Ciudad de Obregon, Mexico and will run from March 5-7.

Wheat is arguably the world’s most important crop. Tens of millions of the world’s poor rely on it for daily sustenance. Despite the crop’s importance to humanity, the wheat plant is relatively inefficient in photosynthesis – the process by which plants convert sunlight to chemical energy – in comparison with other cereal crops such as maize (corn) and sorghum. The goal of the Wheat Yield Consortium is to bring together a cross-disciplinary group of scientists to break wheat’s “yield barrier” – the plant’s current threshold for producing grain.

“It’s notoriously difficult to get scientists to cooperate. Most research is done individually, in small groups, and in tightly controlled environments,” said Dr. Matthew Reynolds, CIMMYT’s wheat physiologist and instigator of the consortium. “The Consortium has achieved its initial goal of getting some of the world’s best crop scientists with a broad range of specialties, to collaborate on a single problem: increasing the productivity of wheat. And we all understand the success of this collective project will be measured by what happens in farmer’s fields, not in the laboratory.”

The scientists are meeting this week to continue pursuit of a broad range of scientific possibilities for wheat. These include everything from optimizing leaf and spike photosynthesis, to genomic selection for increasing breeding efficiency, to exploring collections of landraces, to conventional breeding for yield potential. A recent meeting of potential sponsors from 16 countries unanimously agreed to expand the effort through a system of competitively funded grants that is currently being developed.

“As a group we will pursue the most promising ideas for improving wheat. If we can help this single plant become more productive we can make an enormous contribution towards feeding the world’s poor,” said Dr. Reynolds.

The Wheat Yield Consortium is financially supported by SAGARPA, Mexico’s Ministry of Agriculture, Livestock, Rural Development, Fisheries and Food. Its development has been supported by the U.S., UK, Australian, and Chinese governments.

About CIMMYT
Headquartered in Mexico, the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (known by its Spanish acronym, CIMMYT) is a not-for-profit agriculture research and training organization. The center works to reduce poverty and hunger by sustainably increasing the productivity of maize and wheat in the developing world. CIMMYT maintains the world’s largest maize and wheat seed bank and is best known for initiating the Green Revolution, which saved millions of lives across Asia and for which CIMMYT’s Dr. Norman Borlaug was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. CIMMYT is a member of the CGIAR Consortium and receives support from national governments, foundations, development banks, and other public and private agencies.

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For more information, please contact:
Chris Cutter, CIMMYT, c.cutter@cgiar.org, +52 (1) 595 104 9846


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