Exploiting genetic diversity from landraces in wheat breeding for adaptation to climate change
Published in: Journal of Experimental Botany, In press.
Climate change has generated unpredictability in the timing and amount of rain, as well as extreme heat and cold spells that have affected grain yields worldwide and threaten food security. Sources of specific adaptation related to drought and heat, as well as associated breeding of genetic traits, will contribute to maintaining grain yields in dry and warm years. Increased crop photosynthesis and biomass have been achieved particularly through disease resistance and healthy leaves. Similarly, sources of drought and heat adaptation through extended photosynthesis and increased biomass would also greatly benefit crop improvement. Wheat landraces have been cultivated for thousands of years under the most extreme environmental conditions. They have also been cultivated in lower input farming systems for which adaptation traits, particularly those that increase the duration of photosynthesis, have been conserved. Landraces are a valuable source of genetic diversity and specific adaptation to local environmental conditions according to their place of origin. Evidence supports the hypothesis that landraces can provide sources of increased biomass and thousand kernel weight, both important traits for adaptation to tolerate drought and heat. Evaluation of wheat landraces stored in gene banks with highly beneficial untapped diversity and sources of stress adaptation, once characterized, should also be used for wheat improvement. Unified development of databases and promotion of data sharing among physiologists, pathologists, wheat quality scientists, national programmes, and breeders will greatly benefit wheat improvement for adaptation to climate change worldwide.