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Maize and Wheat Informatics for Improved Livelihoods

To a major research effort which seeks to deliver better maize and wheat varieties to over 40 countries around the world, bioinformaticians at the James Hutton Institute are contributing, with the aim of improving resilience to farmers’ risks, fragile food markets and natural disasters.

The International Maize and Wheat Improvement Centre (CIMMYT) in Mexico. It is the global leader on publicly-funded maize and wheat research and related farming systems. To help breed climate-resilient maize and wheat varieties to feed the future, for the past 5 years the James Hutton Institute has actively contributed to this effort by facilitating the use of DNA tools and novel bioinformatics.

For agriculturally important traits such as drought tolerance, improved nutritional quality and resistance to pests and diseases, within the Mexican-funded SAGARPA MasAgro Seeds of Discovery project, more than 5,000 maize landraces from the CIMMYT genebank have been evaluated using DNA markers. For disease resistance and drought or heat tolerance, wheat genebank accessions from CIMMYT and ICARDA are also being genotyped and phenotyped.

Hutton bioinformaticians Dr Paul Shaw, Dr Iain Milne, Sebastian Raubach and Gordon Stephen have been developed software and resources have been key in achieving this goal. To support the work coordinated by CIMMYT, germinate, a generic plant genetic resources database, offers facilities to store standard germplasm collection and passport data as well as phenotypic, genotypic and field trial information along with other visualization tools such as Flapjack, Helium and CurlyWhirly are being used and have all been developed here in Dundee.

“The software tools developed here are now in routine use by both public and private sector plant breeders and geneticists throughout the world and play a major role in underpinning crop germplasm development,” said Dr David Marshall, a bioinformatician in the James Hutton Institute’s Information and Computational Sciences (ICS) Group and leader of the Institute’s role in this project.


Select Maize Varieties Based on What They Put in the Clamp

Farmers who grow maize need to make sure the varieties they select will grow the highest quality feed available. Limagrain will be offering advice on optimum varieties for the 2017 harvest at the UK Dairy Day (H1-38).

Maize Manager Tim Richmond said, “To ensure maize delivers the maximum benefit in terms of reducing feed costs and improving margins, it is vital selected varieties deliver the highest quality forage.”

This means to maximise the utilisation of the feed value contained in the vegetative parts of the plant, looking at varieties which combine good starch content with high cell wall digestibility, he added.

The varieties which ranked highly in the 2017 BSPB/NIAB Maize Descriptive Varieties List will showcasing by Limagrain and also explaining the financial benefits to producers. Reason is a new variety with very early maturity which scores highly when assessed on energy yield, while Glory, a well-established and popular variety continues to top the list on starch yield.

Selecting the optimum variety can mean the difference between a timely harvest of a quality crop and a disappointing harvest because variety selection can have a huge impact on margins.

Farmers need to look closely at what varieties to put in the clamp when planning cropping for next year, since there is a significant difference in milk yield per hectare between average and top varieties ranked on energy yield.