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Dominant cis-regulatory variation to improve quantitative traits in polyploid wheat

Project description

The more the merrier when it comes to wheat crops

Human somatic cells are diploid, meaning they have paired chromosomes, one from each parent. More than 50 % of all plants are polyploids, wheat being one of them. In polyploidy, cells have multiple copies of identical or similar chromosome sets. This means many genes are present as two or three homoeologous copies with overlapping functions, making genetic engineering for crop intensification challenging. The EU-funded dcPolyWheat project is using state-of-the-art genomics techniques to characterise the wheat genome and apply targeted genome editing to control wheat phenotypic variation in a way that enhances productivity. Success will not only enhance our ability to produce more wheat for a growing global population but should also pave the way to a similar capability for other polyploid crops.


Urgent action is needed to sustainably intensify global crop production using science-based solutions. Across crops, selection for mutations in cis-regulatory regions of transcription factors has been at the centre of the domestication and breeding process to improve productivity traits. Further efforts to advance towards this goal, however, are hampered in the young polyploid genome of wheat as many genes are present as two or three homoeologous copies with overlapping functions. As a result, recessive variation at single loci is often masked by redundancy with homoeologous copies. This understanding, together with the recent breakthroughs in wheat genomics and gene editing approaches, allow us to now propose an innovative strategy to overcome the perennial problem of functional redundancy in polyploid wheat.

The aim of this proposal is to use state-of-the-art genomics to produce a novel framework that defines the cis-regulatory landscape of the polyploid wheat genome. I hypothesise that targeting mutations to cis-regulatory regions of transcription factors will result in dominant alleles within the polyploid context. Through genome editing approaches, I will engineer novel dominant alleles that should result in an unprecedented step change in wheat phenotypic variation, with the potential to improve productivity traits. I will benchmark this novel phenotypic variation with that achieved through recessive loss-of-function mutants in the same transcription factors and their putative downstream genes.

Upon completion, I will deliver publicly-accessible germplasm with unique and novel variation that will enhance wheat productivity traits beyond what is traditionally possible. This project paves the way to apply similar approaches to other polyploid crops and will demonstrate the transformational impact of innovative genetic solutions towards addressing food security.

Host institution

Net EU contribution
€ 1 999 994,00
NR4 7UH Norwich
United Kingdom

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East of England East Anglia Breckland and South Norfolk
Activity type
Research Organisations
Total cost
€ 1 999 994,00

Beneficiaries (1)