AWC - Funded Research

Genetics and Improvement of Earliness in Canadian Spring Wheat

AWC contribution: $200,000 


Early maturity in wheat is important for timely harvest to avoid frost damage and other harvest and post-harvest problems. A better understanding of maturity will help ensure higher and better quality wheat yields for consumers and growers alike. Investigating the genetic basis of earliness in Canadian spring wheat will assist in our efforts to develop early maturing, high yielding, high quality wheat varieties. We will also train future scientists to work in western Canada.



The objective of this research is to undertake a thorough analysis of the genetic basis of early maturity in spring wheat and to apply this knowledge to pool earliness genes into potential CWRS germplasm. This knowledge will be applicable in wheat breeding programs to aid in developing early maturing wheat cultivars for the Canadian prairies, without compromising both high yield potential and good bread-making quality.

Benefits to producers:

Earliness in wheat is a desirable trait in the short growing season of western Canada. Earliness ensures early crop harvest and may also protect wheat crop from various biotic and abiotic stresses. Development of early maturing cultivars will provide farmers an option to grow crop at a time to avoid early and late season frost. Development of new cultivars with early maturity will benefit the industry as a whole. The mapping populations developed in this project will help understand the genetic basis of earliness per se in Canadian spring wheat and will help identify DNA markers for future marker assisted selection of earliness per se. Availability of genetic material with combination of three dominant Vrn alleles and new combinations of two Vrn alleles will help researchers to further study the effects of different combinations of Vrn alleles on earliness and other agronomic traits. It is expected that the graduate students to be trained in this project will qualify to conduct advanced research in plant science in general (and wheat breeding and genetics in particular), which will be important for the agriculture sector in Western Canada.


Dr. Dean Spaner has been a professor for 15 years as a wheat breeder and agronomist at the University of Alberta. His research group works in two general areas:

  1. Conventional breeding (and genetic research) of wheat.
  2. Agronomy and breeding of wheat for organic agricultural environments.

They work mainly in the fields and in greenhouses. In addition to a fully operational modern research farm and greenhouse facilities, they also have 11 acres of farmland on the South Campus devoted to organic agricultural research. They conduct some research on organic and conventional farms in central Alberta, and in affiliation with the Cereal Development Centre of Alberta Agriculture, Food and Rural Development in Lacombe. They collaborate extensively with many breeding programs within the Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada network, and trial much material from CIMMYT in Mexico.