Project Title: Rapid mining and mobilisation of beneficial gene alleles to improve wheat production in East Africa
Host Organisation: International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI), Kenya
The food security challenge anticipated in Africa in the near future is clear: in less than four decades from now, Africa must feed an additional 1.3 billion people more than half of whom will be living in urban areas. Wheat will play a critical role in ensuring food security in Africa as increases in urbanisation has triggered changes in food consumption patterns with a shift from traditional food to easy-to-cook foods that are mostly derived from wheat. Africa demands for wheat more than for any other crop, but only produces less than half of the wheat it consumes. Wheat production in Africa is currently characterised by low yields, high susceptibility to diseases, and poor end-use quality mainly due to the use of poor quality seed with low genetic potential. A preliminary study that characterised 250 wheat cultivars from Kenya and Ethiopia uncovered a gap in the genetic potential currently exploited for wheat improvement in East Africa and showed surprisingly low frequencies of some major genes controlling important agronomic trait in wheat. I propose a low-risk, high-reward and excellent scientific approach to mobilise, evaluate and discover beneficial genetic variation to improve wheat production in East Africa. In the project, I will rapidly mobilise five major beneficial genes to improve yield (TaCKX-D1, TaGW2), protein content (Gpc-B1), and disease resistance (Yr5 and Yr15) in East Africa wheat population, evaluate the effect of these genes in the field and discover new gene alleles for future wheat improvement.