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Iranian and CIMMYT scientists discuss utilization of wheat genetic resources

September 5, 2013

From 12 to 14 August, 2013, Global Wheat Program scientists Marc Ellis, Masahiro Kishii, and David Bonnett visited Iran. Together with Jalal Kamali, CIMMYT principal scientist and representative in Iran, the group met with Iranian scientists involved in wheat breeding and the collection, conservation and utilization of the rich diversity of wheat relatives found in Iran. Participants were from the Seed and Plant Improvement Institute (SPII), the Dryland Agricultural Research Institute (DARI), the Agricultural Biotechnology Research Institute (ABRII), the University of Tehran, the Agricultural Research and Extension Organization (AREEO), and the Ministry of Jihad-e-Agriculture of Iran.

IranianIran is a country with a rich agricultural heritage and a diverse geography and climate. It is in the center of origin and a major producer of many important agricultural species such as pistachios, peaches, grapes, melons, mulberry, sesame, carrots, saffron, walnuts, dates, figs, and pomegranates—many of which were in season and enjoyed by meeting participants. SPII, who hosted the visit, is active in breeding many of these species and conserving their genetic resources in its National Plant Gene Bank of Iran. New releases and genetic resources of many of these were featured in tours of SPII. The meetings were opened by Niazali Sepahvand, the director general of SPII, with other opening comments by Mojtaba Rajab-Baigy, general director of the International Scientific Relationship Office of Agricultural Research and Extension Organization (AREEO) of Iran. Their remarks expressed gratitude for the fruitful past collaborations between CIMMYT and Iran and enthusiasm for continued and strengthened relationships.

Technical presentations outlined the research priorities and activities in wheat breeding in the different agroecological zones of Iran. Around 14 million tonnes of wheat are produced annually in Iran, from warm environments near the Caspian Sea to cold areas in mountainous regions more than 2000m above sea level. Yields are lower than their potential—only around 1.1t/ ha in rainfed areas and 3.5t/ha in irrigated areas—due in part to limited water allocations, which contribute to lower yields of irrigated wheat. Improved agronomy and research into improving resistance or tolerance to a range of important biotic and abiotic stresses such yellow rust, drought and heat as well as improvements in genetic yield potential could be important in raising yields. Iran is at around self-sufficiency in wheat production but is threatened by reductions in water availability and a growing population. The fragility of Iran’s wheat production and need to improve yields in diverse environments was highlighted by the severe drought in 2008, which lead to Iran importing 6 million tonnes of wheat, making it the largest wheat importer in the world.

The great genetic diversity of wheat and related wild and ancestral species was highlighted in presentations from Javed Mozafari, head of the National Gene Bank of Iran. The bank maintains and characterizes a collection of almost 20,000 accessions. CIMMYT scientists focused on the contribution of diversity from landraces and wild relatives to CIMMYT’s wheat improvement efforts. This included the contribution of synthetic wheats incorporating diversity from goat grass to improved resistance to a range of diseases as well as drought and heat tolerance and even emerging data on improvements to genetic yield potential. Wide crossing, genetic analysis of diversity through to pre-breeding and ‘conventional’ variety breeding were covered. On the second day, Iranian scientists hosted CIMMYT scientists in tours of facilities including greenhouses and laboratories of the Cereal Research Department of the SPII campus in Karaj and in the National Plant Gene Bank. Both CIMMYT and Iranian scientists became more familiar with each other’s research and breeding efforts. They identified complementary areas where collaboration could be strengthened in the utilization of genetic diversity from wheat and its relatives.