India and the US will launch a multi-million dollar joint research collaboration to develop wheat varieties, which can tolerate high temperatures.

The need for such varieties is being felt urgently in view of the global warming and rise in temperatures, which experts and scientist feel could adversely affect the production of important crops like wheat.

Led by an Indian American scientist from the Washington State University, the project involving scientists from both countries will be supported by US Agency for International Development (USAID), the Indian Council of Agricultural Research (ICAR) and the Directorate of Wheat Research (DWR).

The endeavour is a part of US government’s global hunger and food security initiative, ‘Feed the Future’.

Researchers are aiming to have first set of climate-resilient varieties in five years, a USAID statement said yesterday.

“The research will focus on the North Indian River Plain, which is home to nearly one billion people and faces challenges such as limited water and rising temperatures”, said Kulvinder Gill, project director and the Vogel Endowed Chair for Wheat Breeding and Genetics.

He added that while the effort is critical for food security, the results will reach far beyond the North Indian River Plain.

They will contribute in Feeding the Future generations and partners’ efforts to more efficiently and effectively address global food security, particularly with respect to the challenge of global climate change, limited resources and a growing population.

“With the newly developed ‘Climate Resilient’ variety, cultivators will be better equipped to deal with these challenges,” he said, adding the project will benefit all wheat growing regions of the world, as heat during flowering is an issue in most of the wheat growing regions.

Researchers will combine conventional breeding and newly developed breeding tools to identify genes or sets of genes associated with heat tolerance, a rarely studied trait with an outsized importance in yields.

A wheat plant’s productivity falls off dramatically when temperatures rise above 82 degree Fahrenheit, as every rise of every couple of degrees above that in a plant’s flowering stage cuts yields by up to four percent.

“Support from USAID will leverage over $11 million from other partners and fund research at WSU and other project-related activities in India”, Gill said.

The effort will include a team of researchers from Kansas State University, the seed manufacturer and processor DuPont Pioneer.

It also includes two Indian institutes (Directorate of Wheat Research and National Bureau of Plant Genetics Resources) and four universities (CCS Meerut University, GB Pant University, Punjab Agricultural University, and Rajendra Agricultural University) along with two private companies.

As many as 35 PhD students and 30 post-doctoral or research fellows will also be involved in the effort, Gill added.

(This article was published on April 9, 2013)
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