NORWICH, UNITED KINGDOM — A project involving 20 lines of wheat planted in six different countries will look to identify wheat traits that support a more sustainable use of land by improving soil microbial biodiversity, nitrogen cycling and soil structure. It aims to provide genetic resources and predictive models to breeders and other stakeholders, which could lead to the introduction of beneficial root traits in wheat production.

A team at the Norwich-based John Innes Center will coordinate the project, which will take place over two consecutive wheat seasons in Belgium, Germany, Italy, South Africa, China and the United States. The project also involves the WISH-Roots Consortium, which works with the wheat root microbiome and is funded through EJP Soil, a European Joint Programme, and through the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC) in the United Kingdom.

“Soil provides 99% of the food consumed by humanity,” said Maria Hernandez-Soriano, PhD, a postdoctoral scientist at the John Innes Centre. “It is not an infinite resource, and it is being lost at an alarming rate. We are looking at how to preserve and improve it in crop systems. Healthier soil supports healthier plants, which result in healthier people.”