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Research Project

Breeding spring wheat for improved Nitrogen Use Efficiency and associated traits

AWC Contribution: $200,000

Start date: January 1, 2018

End date: December 31, 2021


High-nitrogen (N) fertilizer increases yield. It also increases production costs to wheat growers, and excess N fertilizer causes environmental and health risks. The proposed study furthers our previous work to examine the genetics needed to breed for improved N use efficiency in Canadian wheat. This could have direct implications to the bottom line of growers by lessening the need for one of their greatest input costs: N fertilizers.


The overall objective of the project is to generate phenotypic data for diverse wheat germplasm under low-N and high-N, uncover genomic regions associated with NUE, and test the prediction accuracy of genomic selection models under low-N and high-N in bi-parental and diverse association mapping populations. The overall long term objective is to develop breeding tools needed to breed for improved NUE. The goal is thus to develop techniques to breed for lessened dependence on N fertilizers, and develop varieties in the long term which lower input costs and the environmental footprint of western Canadian wheat producers. We also aim to train future scientists for the agricultural sector in western Canada.

Benefit to producers:

Our study would be an important first step in Alberta to further our understanding of Genotype x Environment x Fertility Management system synergies that involve interactions with N fertilizer regimes. This project would identify genes or QTLs associated with adaptation to low and high N and would allow the eventual release of cultivars specifically bred for and adapted to differential N fertility regimes. Development of new cultivars with improved NUE will benefit the industry as a whole. The mapping populations developed in this project will help understand the genetic basis of NUE in Canadian spring wheat and will help identify DNA markers for future marker assisted selection. This research will have global implication in furthering our understanding of Genotype x Environment x Fertility Management interactions in wheat based systems.


We have identified 20 lines and cultivars that had better performance under low N than the best checks. We have also discovered several QTLs and genomic regions associated with 13 agronomic traits and grain characteristics in both biparental populations and an association mapping panel. We have published five research papers with another in the press and the seventh under preparation. We have developed four new recombinant inbred line populations using two NUE parents that will be used for future genetic studies using DNAseq and RNAseq. We have entered three lines (PT7006, BW5113, and BW1137) from the ‘CDC Titanium x Carberry’ population in registration trials in 2021. PT7006 was ranked the third highest yielding line amongst the 27 lines/checks tested at Parkland Wheat Registration trial, while BW1137 was ranked the fifth highest yielding line amongst 30 lines/checks tested in the central Bread Wheat Registration trial. PT7006 had excellent resistance to four of five priority one diseases as well as resistant to wheat midge. BW5113 had good resistance to four of five priority one diseases and the wheat midge. As part of this project, we have trained two summer undergraduate students, and seven graduate students in wheat breeding and genetics.


Dr. Dean Spaner has been a professor for 15 years as a wheat breeder and agronomist at the University of Alberta. His research group works in two general areas:

  1. Conventional breeding (and genetic research) of wheat.
  2. Agronomy and breeding of wheat for organic agricultural environments.

They work mainly in the fields and in greenhouses. In addition to a fully operational modern research farm and greenhouse facilities, they also have 11 acres of farmland on the South Campus devoted to organic agricultural research. They conduct some research on organic and conventional farms in central Alberta, and in affiliation with the Cereal Development Centre of Alberta Agriculture, Food and Rural Development in Lacombe. They collaborate extensively with many breeding programs within the Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada network, and trial much material from CIMMYT in Mexico.