AN EXPERT team of Horsham scientists have contributed to world-first research into the origins of wheat.
Agriculture Victoria scientists have traced the genetic origins of bread wheat back to 8000 BC in research that could help safeguard this key global food crop against climate change.
Senior research scientist Surya Kant, who is based in Horsham, said the work was all about going back in history and looking at bread wheat.
"We looked at the family tree for that wheat and found out how it had originated," he said.
"This will help future-proof the varieties and scientists will be able to develop new varieties with more informed decisions."
The world-first research used genome-wide data to track historical gene flow from wild emmer, a founding wheat ancestor.
The resulting 10,000-year-old genome-level family tree will provide the foundation for faster and more accurate development of wheat varieties suited to a changing climate.
Dr Kant said Horsham researchers had a big involvement in the project.
"We have a collection of more than 6000 wheat varieties here," he said.
"In this situation, about 900 varsities were chosen from that pool of 6000.
"The varieties had been collected from all around the world."
Dr Kant said the seed collection largely came from the Australian Grains Genebank in Horsham, with others coming from overseas.
"The Horsham team then selected one seed from each wheat variety we have and grew the plant," Dr Kant said.
Researchers were then able to collect multiplied seeds from each plant through regeneration, meaning they had enough seeds to run field trials of each variety of wheat.
"We did field trials for two years in a row at the Plant Breeding Centre, in Horsham," Dr Kant said.
"We collected phenotypic observation including plant height, flowering time, physiological maturity and grain yield.
"Genetic data with sequencing for these 900 wheat lines was done at AgriBio Bundoora and a detailed statistical computational analysis culminated in a research paper."
The research was published in the world's highest-ranking genetics journal Nature Genetics earlier this month.
Dr Kant said the Horsham team spent many years on this research.
"We started in 2011 and we concluded the project in 2017," he said.
He said a lot of vital information was gathered from the research.
Dr Kant said the region was fortunate to have state-of-the-art research facilities available in Horsham.
"For this sort of research we have nice, controlled-environment glasshouses and a well-maintained field research station," he said.
"The team has advanced sensors and cameras in the glasshouses, which are also mounted on different unmanned aerial vehicles to capture digital and sensor imagery.
"These cameras are used to observe the plants and record information rather than taking notes and measurements ourselves.
"We also have an advanced analytics and computation set-up."
Dr Kant said Horsham was well equipped for this kind of research.
He said the technology eliminated the more labour-intensive parts of research, such as cutting plants manually.
"The Wimmera is a hub for grain producers and our work focuses on different grain crops," he said.
Dr Kant said he was proud to work on this project.
"It was a fantastic opportunity for myself and other people in my team," he said.
"We were able to interact with world-leading scientists from around the world. It was a really interesting experience."
Agriculture Victoria scientist Dr Matthew Hayden said the development of more resilient wheat varieties would be vital to offset projected production declines due to increasingly hot and dry conditions predicted for eastern Australia.
"This research enables wheat breeders to accelerate precision breeding of wheat varieties that are better adapted to a changed climate, which is critical to the future success of the grains industry," he said.
"We can now pinpoint, with an extremely high level of confidence, areas of the wheat genome that affect climate-related traits such as heat-tolerance, water-use and fertiliser use.
"Researchers and breeders can use this information to develop new bread wheat varieties with more adaptive genes and improved heat stress tolerance, water use efficiency and nutrient use efficiency."
This research has only become possible since Agriculture Victoria scientists, as part of a massive international effort, cracked the wheat genome sequence last year.
"Agriculture Victoria was in a strong position to lead this research due to its world-leading scientists and cutting-edge technologies," Dr Hayden said.