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Develop novel high-yielding wheat using Mediterranean landraces with traits for increased photosynthesis and drought/heat resistance.

Use landraces, selected by farmers, with wider flag leaves, longer glumes, & awns, larger grains and deep roots to increase wheat yield

Photo of J Giles Waines
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Written by

Lead Applicant Organization Name

University of California, Riverside, CA

Lead Applicant Organization Type

  • Researcher Institution

If part of a multi-stakeholder entity (i.e. team), provide the names of other organizations and types of stakeholders collaborating with you.

University of California, Davis, CA.; International Center for Agricultural Research in the Dry Areas, (ICARDA) Rabat, Morocco.

How long have you / your team been working on this Vision?

  • 3-10 years

Lead Applicant: In what city or town are you located?

Riverside, California

Lead Applicant: In what country are you located?

United States of America

Your Selected Place: what’s the name of the Place you’re developing a Vision for?

Mediterranean climate areas, with or without irrigation, that occur in Eurasia, Africa, North & South America and Australia.

What country is your selected Place located in?

California, United States of America, Morocco, Syria

Describe your relationship to the place you’ve selected.

I am retired but still work in California, and have also worked at ICARDA, (Syria) on sabbatical. ICARDA is now located in Lebanon and Morocco. I have collected wheat germplasm in Armenia, Lebanon, Syria, Turkey, Oregon and California. The landraces we crossed to modern wheat are native to Mediterranean regions of Europe, North Africa and Southwest Asia. They have morphological traits which suggest they may have increased photosynthetic capacity at the top of the crop canopy, which results in grains that are almost twice as large as modern California durum wheat. We are presently testing yielding ability compared with modern durum in small plots. If the grain yield is comparable or better than the local durum, it may be advantageous for Morocco, Syria and other Mediterranean countries. The crosses with bread wheat are less advanced, but the grains are also larger and we are growing them in the field this winter. 

Describe the People and Place: Provide information that would be helpful for an outsider who has never been there and may have no context about this Place to better understand the area.

I am familiar with California and Syria, but not Morocco, where ICARDA is presently located because of the Syrian civil war.The inhabitants of Syria are mostly Arabs of many different religious beliefs, perhaps the most diverse in West Asia. Arabic is one of the main languages. Tetraploid durum or pasta wheat and other tetraploids are commonly grown, and consumed as bulgur, freeke, semolina, couscous, or unleavened bread. Hexaploid bread wheat is also consumed as bulgur or leavened bread and exported. The farmers and consumers have a history of participatory plant breeding, which was encouraged by ICARDA at Aleppo. The climate has cold wet winters and hot dry summers. The topography has wide plains with mountains. Winter or spring-sown wheat matures in April, May or June depending on date of sowing and elevation. Farming is a primary employment, wheat and barley are main cereals, lentils, chickpeas and broad beans are main legumes. The hopes of the people are to produce sufficient food to feed their families and provide cash crops for sale to urban areas or export. Cereals and legumes provide a balanced diet supplemented by, vegetables, fruits, chicken and sheep/goats. Arabic food is very similar to that in Turkey, Greece, Egypt and North African countries. Durum and bread wheat provide carbohydrate, protein, fiber and vitamins necessary for a healthy diet. Californian and Mexican food are similar to that of the Mediterranean area. With the exception of fava bean, most inhabitants do not have major allergies to native crops. Celiac disease caused by an allergic reaction to wheat and barley gluten affects only 1% of the human population. There are around 5% other people who have unspecified allergic reactions to wheat. 

What is the approximate size of your Place, in square kilometers? (New question, not required)


What is the estimated population (current 2020) in your Place?


Challenges: Describe the current (2020) and the future (2050) challenges that your food system faces.

The environment of the Mediterranean region is becoming hotter with climate change, but winters can be wetter in some years. The diet is traditionally based on tetraploid wheat (durum and turgidum), barley and legumes, but increasing areas of bread wheat are grown. All are exported  to urban areas and neighboring countries. The population of the area is increasing, but political strife has created immigration and exodus. Once the wars are settled we expect many people to return. The culture is mostly Arabic/Eastern Mediterranean, although it includes many different ethnic groups and languages. Technology is varied, with small farmers still employing human and animal energy, while larger farms have tractors, farm machinery and trucks. The policy includes support of farmers to provide more food for the local population with any excess being exported to large urban areas or to neighboring countries. We expect the urban population to increase in relation to the rural farming population by 2050. Human population growth is still a major factor for rural and urban areas, especially if there is unemployment.    

Address the Challenges: Describe how your Vision will address the challenges described in the previous question.

Increasing grain yield per unit area of durum and bread wheat, by using landraces or wild germplasm to improve canopy traits may help alleviate the food shortage expected in the local areas. Increasing root biomass and depth may tap into deeper soil moisture and help drought and heat tolerance of rain-fed and irrigated crops. Domestication of crops by humans generally narrowed the genetic variation present in the crop, relative to that available in landraces and wild species. Returning some of the genetic variation from landraces and wild species to modern crops may encourage hybrid vigor. The landraces we have crossed to durum and bread wheat arose and were selected by local farmers in the Mediterranean area, including Iran, in medieval times (as far as we know). Grain size can be almost twice that of modern durum wheat. We vision that wheat with wider and longer flag leaves, larger glumes and lemmas, longer awns, more spikelets per spike, may contribute to higher rates of photosynthesis,  increased grain filling, grain size and increased grain yield per unit area. Hybridization of landraces and several back crosses to durum followed by selection has removed some of the undesirable traits of Triticum turgidum ssp. polonicum. such as stem height and partial sterility of upper spikelets, but retained flag-leaf size, glume size, awn length and grain size. The number of fertile florets in the spike has been increased. We expect  these traits to increase grain yield per unit area. This may provide more cereals to feed the increasing human population. If so, it may not affect the land area devoted to growing important pulses and other vegetable and fruit crops. 

High Level Vision: With these challenges addressed, now provide a high level description of how the Place and the lives of its People will be different than they are now.

Syria and other areas such as Lybia, Morocco, and California all expect increased human population. Increasing grain yield per unit area of durum and bread wheat will help alleviate the impending food shortage, by providing increased amounts of plant carbohydrate, protein, fiber and vitamins etc. Poverty in rural and urban areas is not unknown in California! The civil war in Syria and other areas of North Africa such as Lybia, has reduced the amount of land that is farmed and food production has been disrupted. If farmers in those countries can grow these new wheats and increase cereal yields per unit area this will help with the food shortage. Increased straw biomass will be useful to feed farm animals such as sheep, goats and cattle. Poor quality grains may be fed to chickens and animals. This will make the lives of the people better than at present.

Full Vision: How do you describe your Vision for a regenerative and nourishing food future for your Place and People for 2050?

Our vision is sustainable in that crops with increased genetic variation obtained from landraces or wild species for important agronomic and social/health traits may be more useful than that found in the narrow, domesticated crop species. Wheat with a larger root system from a landrace may have access to more deep water and nutrients in the soil solution, so may need less added irrigation or fertilizer. Animal waste from grazing sheep or goats etc. may also add plant nutrition. Both of these may help alleviate climate change, and more root biomass may sequester carbon in the soil, thereby improving soil health. If humans receive more cereal carbohydrates, they more or less automatically receive sufficient protein of good quality and vitamins etc.. This is traditionally supplemented with plant protein from legumes, which also fix atmospheric nitrogen as nitrates etc. from bacterial nodules. Vegetables and fruits complement the local diets. Farmers who produce more grains may have families better off economically, which may improve or restore the culture of rural communities and ultimately urban areas. The wheat we are breeding and selecting may be grown by small farmers with few inputs from irrigation or fertilizer, farm technology and ultimately local or national agricultural policy. They are also amenable to larger farms and large-farm policy. There is a wealth of local knowledge  and people in areas of Mediterranean countries that can act as cooperative extension agents for agriculture. The challenges to our food system include root-biomass size, on which we need to devote more research, although we have researched this with other wheat, triticale and common beans. So it will not prove insurmountable. Some landraces of polonicum wheat are too tall and have sterile florets at the spike apex. We have overcome this by 3 or 4 back-crosses to modern durum, but selected each generation for reduced height, wide-long flag leaves, larger glumes, longer awns and increased grain size. The grain size of best lines is almost double that of commercial durum (95 vs 55 g/thousand grain weight. We now need to yield test selected lines in the field to be sure that we are not affecting grain yield per unit area. We might expect the plant to compensate larger grain size with fewer grains per spike, which could affect grain yield and harvest index. We are field testing in small plots in winter 2020. ICARDA  has teams of agronomists, agricultural extension agents and rural sociologists who may help align evaluation criteria and community rooted inspiration in the selected areas. The main challenge at present is to demonstrate that  something useful in terms of grain yield can be selected from these hybrids and back-crosses of polonicum landrace wheat and modern durum. Using a synthetic hexaploid (BBAADD) made from Triticum turgidum ssp.polonicum (BBAA) x Aegilops tauschii (DD) Adam lukaszewski has introduced large grain size into hexaploid bread wheat and selected against undesirable traits. Once multi-location field trials demonstrate that grain yield per unit area in durum and bread wheat are not compromised, these other challenges may be addressed. 

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Team (3)

J Giles's profile
Joshua's profile
Joshua Hegarty

Role added on team:

"Joshua Hegarty is a postdoctoral fellow in wheat genetics and breeding at University of California Davis. He conducts field trials for Dr. Jorge Dubcovsky's wheat breeding programs. He has grown some of the polonicum x durum lines for several years. I have written Dr. M. Baum, director of Cereal Genetics Program at ICARDA, asking for a team member in Morocco. He suggested a possible contact, but I have not heard back that he will join the team. If not, I will find another local member."

Adam's profile
Adam Lukaszewski

Role added on team:

"Dr. Adam Lukaszewski is the main breeder and selector in this project. He made the original crosses in the glass house and assists in planting the field trials. Adam has worked extensively breeding Triticale (a wheat x rye hybrid) and in wheat cytogenetics."

Attachments (1)

Introgression from T turgidum G Waines.pptx

This powerpoint was given at the annual meetings of the Crop Science Society of America in Tampa, Florida, USA, October 22-25, 2017, in Crop Breeding and Genetics session no. 50,-10.


Join the conversation:

Photo of Jaswinder Singh

Dear Dr. Waines:

Let us collaborate.
Did you remember, we had a dinner together with Kanwarpal at Riverside few years ago.


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