AWC - Funded Research

Precision breeding in wheat mediated by engineered haploid inducers

AWC contribution: $100,000


Our aim is to develop a simple and reliable method of gene editing in wheat and to improve on the current method used by breeders to produce doubled haploids (DH). By having maize deliver gene editing machinery during the maize pollination procedure, wheat breeders will be able to quickly adopt this new technology. Additionally, proposed changes to the haploid induction line will simplify or eliminate the tedious embryo rescue step currently performed in DH breeding.


The main project objective is to bring a non-transgenic method of gene editing to wheat breeding. Through the proposed research, we will generate a maize line capable of expressing CRISPR editing machinery. This will allow breeders to simply substitute this gene editing line with their current haploid inducer line in the DH production pipeline. The second objective is to reduce the time and cost of producing DH lines through the maize pollination method. Wheat breeders prefer the maize pollination method over microspore-derived DH production because of simplicity and because of issues with microspore culture. We plan on creating a maize line that will down-regulate key components of the block that occurs in endosperm following interspecific crosses. This will allow more embryos to proceed in development and allow them to develop to a more advanced state. By using this improved line, wheat breeders will reduce time and cost of DH production.

Benefits to producers:

Canadian wheat growers need improved cultivars to cope with increased demands and changing climate. This project will make improvements to the interspecific DH method allowing breeders to better capture genetic variation in their breeding programs. Faster development of new and improved lines will ensure that producers are able to meet future demands. Advanced knowledge of seed biology will guide us to improve existing DH production methods, simplifying the overall process and possibly even eliminating the tedious embryo rescue step. More importantly, the proposed methods will bring state-of-the-art gene editing technologies to existing DH pipelines. Having the power to precisely edit genes in elite breeding lines or hybrids will open up a whole new world of possibilities for wheat breeders. Our first targets for proof-of-concept will include elimination of red color in red wheat allowing red lines to compete in the global market against white lines. Additionally, the resistance gene Fhb1 will be targeted to break resistance to Fusarium Head Blight, demonstrating the power of our technology to affect plant-pathogen interactions. Ultimately, however, plant susceptibility genes will be the desired targets for future experiments.


Dr. John Laurie is a Research Scientist with AAFC-Lethbridge. He is from the Edmonton area and prior to joining AAFC, did postdoctoral research in the U.S.A. and at the University of Cambridge in England. John holds a PhD in Botany from the University of British Columbia and is an expert in plant and fungal genomics. His current research efforts are focused on improving cereals using biotechnology, but in a broader sense, John is interested in natural processes driving genetic variation in nature.