The Delivering Genetic Gain in Wheat (DGGW) project, launched in 2016, was a global initiative led by Cornell University to develop new varieties of wheat with improved agronomic traits, climate resilience and disease resistance so that smallholder farmers, especially in East Africa and South Asia, can improve their livelihoods and food security. The collaborative effort — coordinated by the Borlaug Global Rust Initiative at Cornell’s College of Agriculture and Life Sciences — grew and strengthened the international community of wheat scientists and farmers committed to improving the disease resistance of wheat.
Among its achievements, the project upgraded technical capacity and infrastructure in national wheat research centers; created one of the world’s first and most digitally robust crop surveillance and monitoring networks; boosted the capacity of wheat screening nurseries in Mexico, Africa and Asia; increased the number and visibility of women wheat scientists around the world; and created numerous training opportunities for early-career male and female wheat scientists.
The success of DGGW built on the Durable Rust Resistance in Wheat (DRRW) project funded from 2008 to 2016 by the Gates Foundation over two grant phases. DRRW was managed by Cornell University with 24 sub-grantees and an approximate investment of $8 million annually, of which $3 million annually was provided by UK aid from the British people through the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office.
At the start of the DRRW project, an estimated 80% of the world’s cultivated wheat was susceptible to epidemic yield losses from a highly virulent stem rust fungus called Ug99, spreading out of East Africa. This threat galvanized a collaborative global response coordinated by the BGRI at Cornell University to protect wheat production. To respond to the challenge, the BGRI was especially focused on smallholder farmers in East Africa and South Asia where dependence on wheat is high, food insecurity is critical, and the risk of rust is greatest.
The Delivering Genetic Gain in Wheat project (2016-2021) focused on strengthening the pipeline for delivering new varieties of wheat with disease resistance for all rusts (stem, stripe and leaf), septoria and spot blotch and improved heat tolerance, and increasing wheat yields for smallholder farmers in Ethiopia and South Asia. The DGGW supported increased rates of genetic gain for wheat by investing in modernized breeding programs at CIMMYT and national programs in East Africa and South Asia, incorporating guidance from a review of the CIMMYT wheat program utilizing a Breeding Program Diagnostic Tool (BPDT) provided by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.
To maintain and increase the annual rates of genetic gains, the DGGW engaged in more targeted crossings, rapid cycling of segregating populations through two-generations-per-year field selection for spring bread and durum wheat, single seed descent method for winter/facultative wheat, application of molecular markers, and new approaches in conjunction with testing of larger number of progenies for yield performance, and precise characterization at phenotyping platforms for key traits.
The approach was broken into nine objectives: (1) Advocacy, (2) Surveillance, (3) Breeding Pipeline, (4) Genomic Selection (GS) & High Throughput Phenotyping (HTP), (5) Phenotyping Platforms, (6) Seed Multiplication, (7) Data Management, (8) Talent Pipeline, and (9) Project Management. Gender awareness and long-term sustainability were strong focal points across all objectives.
Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation
UK Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office
A sample of achievements from the DGGW project
Associate Director for Science
External Project Advisory Committee
Bill Angus, Angus Wheat, UK
Usha Barwale Zehr, Mahyco, India
Richard Michelmore, UC-Davis, USA
Robert Park, University of Sydney, Australia