Wheat: a strategic crop to feed world increasing population

CBGP (UPM-INIA) initiates a strategic research and innovation program on wheat. This research will generate new wheat varieties with better adaptation to environment conditions and enhance disease resistance to pathogens.


The increasing population (9.5 billions in 2050), unpredictable global climatic changes, and the emergence of resistant pathogens are the main threats to food security (Curtis and Halford 2014). The current trend of climate change is expected to have adverse environmental effects, such as frequent occurrences of drought and other extreme weather events, which will largely hinder crop production and the availability of food in the majority of developing countries. Among cereals, wheat is the most broadly grown crop in the world and the second-most in Spain (35,2% of total cereal production). It is estimated that wheat production needs to be increased by 60% until 2050 to feed the increasing population (Wheat, 2014). Wheat farmers face critical challenges to achieve this goal and the best way to address them is by developing new growing strategies. Critically, research would provide solutions to overcome challenges like pests, plant diseases and adaptation to climate change required to increase wheat production and productivity. CBGP (UPM-INIA) mission is to contribute to gain a better understanding of the interaction of wheat with pathogens and we use advanced technologies, such as genomics-assisted breeding and genetic engineering, to develop modern wheat varieties.


Gaining knowledge of the plant immune system allows the design of new strategies to prevent pathogen colonization and control diseases. In addition, characterizing new pathogen virulence factors and understanding what their function are enables the identification of new targets to interfere with the pathogen during host colonization. At CBGP (UPM-INIA) we pursue to acquire a thorough understanding of the interaction between wheat and pathogens and identify key components that define the outcome of wheat pathosystems (Sanchez-Vallet et al. 2015). This novel research is focused on the wheat fungal pathogen Zymoseptoria tritici, which is the most damaging pathogen of wheat in Europe (Fones et al. 2015). This research line will be led by Dr. Andrea Sánchez-Vallet who joins the CBGP (UPM-INIA) as tenure-track researcher of the prestigious program Ramon y Cajal from the Spanish Research Agency. link.



Genomic selection is the most-promising assisted breeding method to speed the development and release of new genotypes. Genomic selection (GS) is a breeding tool that incorporates all marker information in a prediction model capturing more variation due to many small effect loci and therefore is suitable for quantitative traits (Crossa et al. 2017). Genomic selection has been demonstrated to be more efficient than traditional breeding selection methods in both simulations and empirical studies. Important considerations for a breeder initiating GS include timing, training population composition and size, phenotyping and genotyping design, budget, and statistical modelling (Isidro et al 2016). GS can be applied to the early or late stages of breeding, with the respective goals of rapid cycling or increased selection accuracies. This makes GS very attractive to companies and researchers. At CBGP (UPM-INIA), we aim to exploit GS knowledge-based breeding tools to develop high-yielding wheat cultivars that keep pace with increasing food demand, not only in optimal but also in stressed conditions. This novel research line will be led by Dr. Julio Isidro who joins the CBGP (UPM-INIA) as tenure-track researcher of the new program Beatriz Galindo (senior) from the Spanish Ministry of Science, Innovation and Universities. link.  The Genomic selection program is integrated in the Computational/Systems Biology and Genomics Program (CsBGP) that was launched by the CBGP (UPM-INIA) in the frame of its “Severo Ochoa Centre of Excellence” strategic R&D program.



We seek to improve sustainable wheat production on accordance with the second sustainable development goal of the United Nations (https://bit.ly/37UlHu5). Specifically, we aim to gain knowledge to ensure the sustainable production of food and to enable the implementation of resilient agricultural practices that increase productivity. At CBGP UPM-INIA), the main goal of this new “wheat program” is to provide bio solutions to farmers to increase wheat yield, while minimizing the use of pesticides, contributing to a more sustainable agriculture.




The Centre for Plant Genomics and Biotechnology (CBGP) is a joint research institute UPM-INIA whose mission is to carry out fundamental and strategic research in plant science and associated microorganisms. In particular, research lines are focused on the study of plant development, their nutritional mechanisms and their interaction with the environment. The knowledge acquired is used to address the main problems of agriculture and forestry today, as well as to develop new technological solutions. The CBGP (UPM-INIA) has been recognized by the Spanish Research Agency as a Severe Ochoa Center of Excellence, the highest institutional recognition of excellence in scientific research in Spain.


About CsBGP

In the frame of the SO-CBGP strategic Plan, a novel Computational-Systems Biology and Genomics Programe has been launched, which will enhance the implementation of computational/genomics tools and novel research lines. The mission statement of this program is to revolutionize plant and agricultural research by applying systems-level, multi-scale, information-driven and model-driven approaches to improving plant growth, enhancing productivity, and preventing disease.


  • Crossa J, Pérez-Rodríguez P, Cuevas J, Montesinos-López O, Jarquín D, de los Campos G, Burgueño J, González-Camacho JM, Pérez-Elizalde S, Beyene Y, Dreisigacker S. 2017. Genomic selection in plant breeding: methods, models, and perspectives. Trends in plant science 1;22(11):961-75.
  • Curtis T and Halford NG. 2014. Food security: the challenge of increasing wheat yield and the importance of not compromising food safety. Annals of applied biology 164(3), pp.354-372.
  • Fones H, & Gurr S. 2015. The impact of Septoria tritici Blotch disease on wheat: An EU perspective. Fungal Genetics and Biology, 79, 3-7.
  • Isidro-Sánchez J, Akdemir D, Burke J. Book Chapter 32: “Genomic Selection”. The World Wheat. Vol. 3. Vol. 2. Lavoisier, 2016.
  • Sánchez-Vallet A, McDonald MC, Solomon PS, McDonald BA. 2015. Is Zymoseptoria tritici a hemibiotroph? Fungal Genetics and Biology 79, 29-32.
  • WHEAT. 2014. Wheat: Vital grain of civilization and food security. In: 2013 Annual Report, CGIAR Research Program on Wheat. CGIAR Research Program on Wheat (WHEAT), Mexico, D.F.