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Genetic Reduction of Energy use and Emissions of Nitrogen in cereal production, GREEN grain - LK0959

Historically the focus of wheat breeding in the UK has been on yield and breadmaking quality. The result has been high fertiliser usage to achieve the former, and high grain protein content to achieve the latter. The non-ruminant feed and distilling markets both require grain with high starch rather than high protein, and the emerging bioethanol industry has similar demands.

This proposal therefore aims to explore the potential to develop wheat varieties with enhanced value for distilling (both bioethanol and potable alcohol production), non-ruminant feeding and other end-uses, and with reduced production costs. The research will identify genes and processes giving rise to high starch grains with high ethanol yields, improved amino acid balance, reduced gliadin proteins and reduced requirements for fertiliser N by:

· developing screening techniques, e.g. new NIR calibrations for energy content,
· screening current varieties and elite germplasm,
· developing mapping populations and genetic markers for these characters,
· examining associations between target characters and existing indices of crop performance, e.g. yield, and
· assessing agronomy and end-use value of the high-energy lines in the bio-energy and poultry industries.

It appears feasible to combine these different attributes in one wheat type because:
· The biofuels and livestock feeding industries both regard wheat primarily as an energy source. Thus their principal requirements are similar.
· It is likely that exploitable variation for the individual characters exists in the elite gene-pool, given the absence of past selection, and given the evidence that it exists in the adapted gene-pool (from which modern varieties have been bred).
· The gliadin proteins in the endosperm of wheat grain are very low in lysine and other essential amino acids, so have minimal nutritional value to non-ruminants.
· When gliadins are minimised by breeding, grain starch should increase proportionally and N demand should reduce by 30%.
· Considerable ‘inactive’ N is contained in true stems. When used as a breeding target, low stem N should reduce canopy N content by 30%, without affecting photosynthesis.
· A 30% reduction in crop N uptake should give a 50% reduction in fertiliser N.

It is expected that varieties identified here, or varieties which are bred from the materials developed here, will provide end-users with grain of enhanced value, and also growers with better returns. This is partly because availability of high-energy varieties will expand the market for UK wheat, particularly for bioethanol production, partly because high-energy wheat will need less fertiliser (and other inputs) than conventional wheat, and partly because on-farm energy use and downstream pollution will be reduced. There will also be significant benefits to the distilling and livestock industries, both in terms of cost savings, and reduced N pollution.

To enable development of high-energy wheat varieties with enhanced value for distilling (bioethanol and potable alcohol production) and non-ruminant feeding, and with reduced input requirements, especially of fertiliser N.

Scientific objective(s)

1. To refine the specifications of grain for distilling and for feeding to non-ruminants, and to devise protocols for its production.
2. To quantify the benefits of using wheat grain with high energy content and improved amino-acid balance in commercial production of both ethanol and poultry meat.
3. To develop robust NIR calibrations (or other rapid screening techniques) for energy content and alcohol yield from wheat grain, and for gliadin content of all wheat types (hard & soft).
4. To identify germplasm expressing positive ‘GREEN grain’ characteristics and to establish any associations with other aspects of varietal performance.
5. To test the hypothesis that high energy content, high ethanol yield, and improved amino-acid balance of wheat grain are consistent with reduced requirements for fertiliser N.
6. To identify gene-based markers that can be used to monitor the segregation of ‘GREEN grain’ and alcohol yield characters across a wide range of germplasm.
Time-Scale and Cost
From: 2004

To: 2009

Cost: £1,693,076
Contractor / Funded Organisations
Arable Farming              
Climate and Weather              
Climate Change              
Crop Improvement              
Environmental Protection              
LINK Programme              
Sustainable Farming and Food              
Wheat Production              
Fields of Study
Arable Crops