Goat grass weed used to improve wheat varieties


Scientists are using the goat grass weed to help improve breeding of wheat.

Researchers from the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center have developed a number of wheat varieties by crossing wheat and grass. The goat grass is considered a weed in some countries.

In a paper published in Nature Plants yesterday, researchers stated that genes from goat grass contribute to the tolerance of wheat to cold and diseases, hence wheat is able to grow in many parts of the world.

“Understanding the complex genetic features of goat grass could help develop new wheat varieties that adapt to climate change extremes and diseases,” said the authors.

Kenya produces below 500,000 metric tonnes of wheat annually against a consumption of one million tonnes according to data from the Kenya Bureau of Statistics. The Kenya Agricultural and Livestock Research Organisation, Food Crops Research Centre in Njoro states that besides the unstable weather conditions, wheat production in Kenya is constrained by widespread use of recycled seed by farmers, and the resultant prevalence of the wheat stem rust (Ug99) diseases such as wheat stem rust and while subdivision of land hinders efficient wheat farming.

Professor. Rudi Appels, a co-author of the paper said as the world's population increases and the climate grows more extreme, it is important to be able to produce wheat varieties which can survive and thrive.

“The availability of the genome sequence for goat grass provides further opportunity to explore and understand the properties which help wheat improvement,” he said.

Wheat is the second most important cereal in Kenya after maize and it is mainly grown in Narok, Nakuru, Njoro, Timau and Uasin Gishu areas.


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