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  • By Lynda Kiernan-Stone, Global AgInvesting Media

Cornell University Awarded $24M to Combat Global Wheat Loss

The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation has awarded Cornell University $24 million to combat global wheat loss due to climate-change related crop loss that negatively affects food security in areas of conflict across the Middle East and Africa and threatens global supply.

The new grant, Delivering Genetic Gain in Wheat (DGGW) will support the development of new strains of wheat through the use of comparative genomics and big data that are heat tolerant and resistant to diseases and wheat rusts.

The four-year DGGW grant will be able to expand on the success of the Borlaug Global Rust Initiative (BGRI) which was led by the Durable Rust Resistance in Wheat (DRRW) project, funded by the UK’s Department for International Development and the Gates Foundation between 2008 and 2016. Scientists with the BGRI in partnership with national governments and agencies, screened thousands of samples of wheat from every continent infected with rust to isolate resistant strains.

"Over the last eight years, we have built a global consortium of wheat scientists and farmers whose efforts have so far prevented the global epidemics of Ug99 stem rust predicted back in 2005," said Ronnie Coffman, international plant breeder and director of Cornell's International Programs, who leads the consortium of 2,000 scientists from 35 international institutions in a recent press release. "We have improved wheat resistance to stem and yellow rust globally and increased global yields."

Although DGGW will be headquartered at Cornell University, it will partner with scientists in Kenya and Ethiopia as well as scientists with the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (CIMMYT), the International Center for Agricultural Research in the Dry Areas (ICARDA), and research labs in the U.S., Canada, China, Turkey, Denmark, Australia, and South Africa.

"For many of the poorest people in Africa and southern Asia, wheat provides most of their food and is an important source of income," said Ronnie Coffman, international plant breeder and director of Cornell’s International Programs. "It's these people who have benefited the most from the DRRW and the BGRI's successes at developing new strains of wheat that are high yielding, rust resistant and nutritious. With this grant, we will continue to involve farmers in the variety selection and seed multiplication process and train the next generation of wheat warriors to keep up the fight."

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