Crop and Pasture Science Crop and Pasture Science Society
Plant sciences, sustainable farming systems and food quality
FARRER REVIEW

Wheat physiology: a review of recent developments

R. A. Fischer

CSIRO Plant Industry, PO Box 1600, Canberra, ACT 2601, Australia. Email: tony.fischer@csiro.au




Tony Fischer was born in January 1940 and grew up on a wheat–sheep farm in the Riverina of NSW, where he has still maintained a close links until recently. He completed his secondary education in Melbourne, with B. Agric. Sci., (University of Melbourne), graduating in 1961. He then obtained a Master’s of Agricultural Science degree (also from University of Melbourne) in 1964, and a PhD in Plant Physiology from the University of California (Davis) in 1967. Tony has worked for NSW Department of Agriculture at Wagga Wagga, CSIRO in Canberra, CIMMYT (Centro Internacional de Mejoramiento de Maiz y Trigo) in Mexico (1970–95, 1988–95), and finally for ACIAR (The Australian Centre for International Agricultural Research) from 1995 to 2005. He is currently an Honorary Research Fellow at CSIRO Plant Industry. Whilst at CIMMYT, Tony was the Director of the Wheat Program from 1988 to 1995 and later has been a member of the Board of Trustees of GRDC, ICARDA and IRRI. His research interests have always been the physiology, agronomy and genetic improvement of wheat, which has been gradually expanded to include the role of crop science in international agricultural development. Tony has published over 100 peer-reviewed papers. Tony was awarded the CM Donald Medal in 2004, the William Farrer Memorial Medal in 2007 and Member of the Order of Australia (AM) in 2007 for services to agricultural research.

Crop and Pasture Science 62(2) 95-114 http://dx.doi.org/10.1071/CP10344
Submitted: 25 October 2010  Accepted: 18 January 2011   Published: 17 February 2011

Abstract

This review focuses on recent advances in some key areas of wheat physiology, namely phasic development, determination of potential yield and water-limited potential yield, tolerance to some other abiotic stresses (aluminium, salt, heat shock), and simulation modelling. Applications of the new knowledge to breeding and crop agronomy are emphasized. The linking of relatively simple traits like time to flowering, and aluminium and salt tolerance, in each case to a small number of genes, is being greatly facilitated by the development of molecular gene markers, and there is some progress on the functional basis of these links, and likely application in breeding. However with more complex crop features like potential yield, progress at the gene level is negligible, and even that at the level of the physiology of seemingly important component traits (e.g., grain number, grain weight, soil water extraction, sensitivity to water shortage at meiosis) is patchy and generally slow although a few more heritable traits (e.g. carbon isotope discrimination, coleoptile length) are seeing application. This is despite the advent of smart tools for molecular analysis and for phenotyping, and the move to study genetic variation in soundly-constituted populations. Exploring the functional genomics of traits has a poor record of application; while trait validation in breeding appears underinvested. Simulation modeling is helping to unravel G × E interaction for yield, and is beginning to explore genetic variation in traits in this context, but adequate validation is often lacking. Simulation modelling to project agronomic options over time is, however, more successful, and has become an essential tool, probably because less uncertainty surrounds the influence of variable water and climate on the performance of a given cultivar. It is the ever-increasing complexity we are seeing with genetic variation which remains the greatest challenge for modelling, molecular biology, and indeed physiology, as they all seek to progress yield at a rate greater than empirical breeding is achieving.


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