An integrated approach combining genomics, genetics and agronomy to improve the European wheat and barley production

whealbiLaunched in January 2014 for a 5-year period, this project is funded by EU’s 7th Framework Programme for Research (FP7). It is coordinated by the Institut National de la Recherche Agronomique (INRA, France) and involves the best European laboratories working on wheat and barley, in fields ranging from genomics to agronomy.

The objective of WHEALBI is to strengthen bread wheat and barley production in Europe by enabling the development of new, productive varieties adapted to cropping systems that require lower inputs and which are health and environment friendly.

512 barley accessions grown in spring 2015 at the James Hutton Berry Hill site.
512 barley accessions grown in spring 2015 at the James Hutton Berry Hill site.

Challenges in temperate cereal improvement
Temperate small grain cereals are staple food for both people and animals. As a major element of an independent and sustainable agricultural economy, they represent more than half of the cultivated areas in Europe. Europe is the world’s number one producer of wheat and barley and plays an important role in international trade. Global demand is expected to increase by 40 to 50 % by 2050.
To meet projected demand without increasing agricultural area, it will be necessary to increase crop yield per hectare, while reducing the environmental impact of farming practices and the need in non-renewable resources (water, energy, nutrients…). However, yield improvement, which was approximately 1 % per year between 1950 and 1990, has now slowed considerably and is close to zero – particularly in European countries where yields are already very high. To remain a major agricultural producer and contribute to the global food ‘Grand Challenge’, Europe must rely on innovation to develop efficient and sustainable varieties and cropping systems.


An integrated approach combining genomics, genetics and agronomy
To meet these agricultural and environmental challenges, WHEALBI will combine multidisciplinary and integrative approaches to identify, understand and utilise the rich sources of diversity locked in both landraces and crop wild relatives (CWR’s) for crop improvement. Many genetic resources conserved in gene banks will be analysed by sequencing most of the gene containing regions of the genome (exome). This will be one of the first exercises of its kind in the world at this scale, with over 1,000 wheat and barley lines studied.

WHEALBI Partnerships
WHEALBI Partnerships

The same materials will be tested in field experiments and on precision phenotyping platforms. Data generated will be organised in databases that will be made accessible to the international scientific community to use and to study study, for example, (i) genome-wide signatures of selection (identification of chromosomal regions that reflect genetic progress), (ii) associations between DNA polymorphism and adaptive traits and, (iii) new variants of interest for plant breeding. Bioinformatics tools will be developed to use the datasets generated and provide tools for decision making in plant breeding. New genetic constructs (ideotypes or experimental varieties combining favourable traits for a highly productive and environment friendly agriculture, such as stress adaptation, disease tolerance…) will be tested in innovative cropping systems, particularly with low level of inputs (nitrates, pesticides), little tillage (energy savings, carbon storage in organic matter, erosion control) and organic farming.


Organisation Country Main contact
1. Institut National de la Recherche Agronomique (INRA) France Gilles Charmet
2. The James Hutton Institute (JHI) UK Joanne Russell
3. Leibniz – Institut Fuer Pflanzengenetik und Kulturpflanzenforschung (IPK) Germany Nils Stein
4. Stichting dienst landbouwkundig onderzoek (DLO) The Netherlands Marco Bink
5. Magyar Tudomanyos Akademia Agrartudomanyi Kutatokozpont (ATK) Hungary Marta Molnar
6. Consiglio per la ricerca e sperimentazione in agricoltura (CRA) Italy Luigi Cattivelli
7. The Genome Analysis Centre (TGAC) UK Sarah Ayling
8. Helmholtz Zentrum Muenchen Deutsches Forschungszentrum Fuer Gesundheit und Umwelt Gmbh (HMGU) Germany Klaus Mayer
9. University of Haifa (HU) Israel Tzion Fahima
10. Parco Tecnologico Padano S.R.L (PTP) Italy Laura Rossini
11. National Institute of Agricultural Botany (NIAB) UK Nathan Morris
12. Progressive farming trust LTD T/A the Organic Research Centre (ORC) UK Martin Wolfe
13. Universitaet Zuerich (UZH) Switzerland Beat Keller
14. KWS UK (KWS) UK Jacob Lage
15. Società Italiana Sementi s.p.a (SIS) Italy Stefano Ravaglia
16. INRA Transfert S.A. (IT) France Ronan Pendu
17. ARCADIA International (AI) Belgium Sébastien Crépieux
18. The Hebrew university of Jerusalem (HUJI) Israel Yehoshua Saranga

PrintFor further information on this project please contact Joanne Russell ( from the James Hutton Institute.