Bringing wild relatives back into the family: recovering genetic diversity in CIMMYT.
The dangers of a narrow genetic base of the world's major domesticated food crops have become a great global concern in recent decades. The efforts of the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (CIMMYT) to breed common wheat cultivars for resource poor farmers in the developing world (known as the Green Revolution wheats) has met with notable success in terms of improved yield, yield stability, increased disease resistance and utilization efficiency of agricultural inputs. However, much of the success was bought at the cost of an overall reduction in genetic diversity in the species; average Modified Roger's distances (MRD) within groups of germplasm fell from 0.64 in the landraces to a low of 0.58 in the improved lines in the 1980s. Recent efforts by CIMMYT breeders to expand the genetic base of common wheat has included the use of landraces, materials from other breeding programs, and synthetic wheats derived from wild species in the pedigrees of new advanced materials. The result, measured using SSR molecular markers, is a highly significant increase in the latent genetic diversity of recently developed CIMMYT breeding lines and cultivars compared to the original Green Revolution wheats (average MRD of the latest materials (0.63) is not significantly different from that of the landraces, as tested using confidence intervals). At the same time, yield and resistance to biotic and abiotic stresses, and end-use quality continue to increase, indicating that the Green Revolution continues to this day.
Euphytica (2006) 149 (3) 289-301 [doi: 10.1007/s10681-005-9077-0]