Eidgenössisches Department für Wirtschaft, Bildung und Forschung
— WBF-Agroscope —
Agroscope is the Swiss Confederation’s centre of excellence for agricultural research, and is affiliated with the Federal Office for Agriculture, which in turn is subordinate to the Federal Departement of Economic Affairs, Education and Research. Research conducted at Agroscope provides tools and support to enable the production of safe and healthy food for an environmentally respectful agriculture. Agroscope is committed to improving plants and plant breeding. Agroscope harbors and manages the Swiss National Gene Bank. At the end of the 19th century, Switzerland was home to an enormous number of local wheat varieties and a large number of farmers re-used their own seeds year after year. Known as ‘massal selection’, this technique guaranteed a relatively stable quality of yield from one harvest to the next. But it had only limited potential in terms of improving quality. It was during World War I that the government made obtaining the supply of seeds a vital matter for the country. Scientific cereal breeding was consequently systematised, and breeders were obliged to use all means at their disposal to ensure a certain level of food security for the Swiss population, which was already largely urban. The Swiss government established a monopoly on purchasing wheat seeds, thereby encouraging farmers to buy seeds guaranteed by the state and to cultivate quality wheat to be made into bread for domestic consumption only. In addition to baking quality, the wheat varieties also had to produce high yields and be disease resistant. A veritable challenge for the wheat breeders. This biological wealth of over one decade, from the local varieties to the first hybridized varieties to the modern varieties, is stored in the National Genebank and made available to the public and all interested persons. Actually, the genebank preserves more than 6000 wheat and 800 barley accessions. A large part of the accessions has been phenotypically characterized and genotyped in past projects. The genebank is associated to the research group Crop plant breeding and genetic resources, assuring the practical and scientific link between the preservation of genetic diversity, its pheno- and genotyping and transfer into modern cultivars.
Role within AGENT
The National Genebank will contribute with wheat and barley accessions to the AGENT project. In particular, WBF-Agroscope will contribute within task 3.3: establishment of a wheat and barley precision collection. We will make available 500 wheat accessions spanning from the beginning of the 19th century, collected between 1940 and 1963 but also cultivars developed within the Agroscope breeding programme and released between 1920 and today. These 500 accessions will be submitted to deep phenotyping at Agroscope and for last generation genotyping at Uni ZH. Phenotyping will include the assessment of resistance against the common wheat diseases yellow rust, brown rust, Fusarium head blight and powdery mildew. Furthermore, agronomically important features such as the leaf area index (leaf surface area per unit soil surface area), leaf and stem growth parameters, yield potential and grain parameters will be determined. On a selection of 50 accessions, we will carry out a more detailed historical and phenotypical survey. This includes also baking quality aspects and the content in beneficial compounds such as insoluble and soluble fibres, antioxidant compounds and vitamins.