Video transcript: Wheat Initiative: an international vision for wheat improvement

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May 2013

Hélène Lucas, Inra
Wheat is the most important crop in the world as far as … is concerned and more than 200 million hectors of wheat are planted annually, so wheat is really important. Wheat is also the most important source of protein and the second most important source of calories after rice and in the last decade the consumption of wheat has spread over the entire planet and we can approximately say that since the 1960's the consumption and demand for wheat has doubled so wheat is really important. Wheat is also valued for the functionality of its grains to produce a multitude of end products. There is bread of course, there is lots of pasta, couscous, biscuits and so on and so forth. And all this food cannot be substituted easily by other food and this is the reason why the availability and the stability of wheat production as well as the maintenance of wheat prices at an affordable level are so important for food security but also for political stability. In 10 of the past 15 years wheat production hasn't met demand and it is estimated that demand for wheat products will increase by 60% by 2050. So we therefore face a tremendous challenge to increase wheat production and sustainability and make sure that we can produce enough safe and high quality products and at the same time we know that we have to face the challenge of climate change and of natural resources depletion. And the best decade or decades of science and technologies have provided us with a number of tools and we are now in the capacity to make major efforts to reach this challenge. However, I am really convinced that the only way to answer this challenge is to join public and private forces to define priorities together and try to answer them and to also increase and coordinate investment in wheat research and these are the aims of the wheat initiative that was created in 2011 and under the aegis of the G20 ministries of agriculture that endorsed it in their action plan.

Steve Visscher, BBSRC
Well first of all the initiative brings together the key parties which are involved in wheat research, it brings together members from the private sector, from the public sector research organisations around the world and also research funding bodies from around the world and the important component of that is that those parties need to work together in partnership. The next action has been to define a vision for the wheat initiative. This is crucial to give us a sense of perspective, some clear goals and ability to convey to many parties the ambition that the initiative has. But building a vision on its own is not sufficient. We then have to say how can we realise that vision so we are going to produce a strategic plan with priorities and then to use the connections created through the wheat initiative, and the structures we have put in place, to deliver those research goals. And they will be delivered in several ways both by sometimes members of the wheat initiative working together and deciding to do things collaboratively. Sometimes they will be delivered by national governments or national agencies being influenced by the priorities of the wheat initiative and thereby contributing to the global effort through a coordinated national effort.

The first actions has been to build the foundation to give us the capability to address the challenges within the wheat initiative so that foundation includes building political support from G20 countries at the beginning, and the reason for that support was that global food security was such an important issue throughout the world. Now wheat is the most widely grown crop and so the opportunity for wheat to contribute to global food security is significant. We need to be able to produce more wheat, in a sustainable way and with fewer inputs and the challenge is to find ways of doing that quickly. So we have put in place the structures to deliver this with groups of scientists, groups of funders coming together and so as well as having the foundation the next stage is what are the key actions that we can take to start with.

I would like to give you two examples. One is to form a wheat information system. Now to breed new wheat crops using modern techniques generates a huge amount of data and bioinformatics data and increasingly there will be imaging data as well. This is a big challenge to manage that data and it also needs to be shared between researchers all round the world. For example, there are databases in many countries and sometimes these databases will have different formats or different protocols so our challenge through the wheat information system is to agree a common approach by which this mass of data can be shared and people can use and interpret that for the global good in wheat breeding. So that is one example the second is the wheat genome sequence. Now the wheat genome is an extraordinarily complex and large genome and so the challenge to the global community is very considerable. There is a sequencing consortium has been formed and it is the view of the wheat initiative that we need to speed up the process of completing the wheat genome. Why do we need to do that? Because if we can speed up the reference sequence and the full genome sequence it will allow us to speed up the breeding process to do the breeding more quickly, to do it more precisely and possibility at lower cost as well. So in conclusion completing the wheat genome sequence in a shorter time will enable us to advance the overall aims of the wheat initiative to increase the wheat yield, to increase the ability to resist diseases and so on and help achieve the overall aims of the initiative.

© Inra 2013