Wheat is the most important food crop in the world, with a total yield of 670 million tons/year. Wheat is providing 20% of the calories and proteins for human consumption. The ever-increasing human population, together with loss of agricultural land, diminishing water availability, and climate change, pose serious challenges to food security, and caused doubling of wheat prices in the last five years. Wild emmer wheat, found in Israel by Aaron Aaronsohn in 1906, is a promising genetic resource for improving wheat varieties. The Center of origin of wild emmer wheat is in Israel.

The IOE gene bank includes a large collection of wild emmer wheat and wild barley genotypes, collected in Israel and other regions in the Fertile Crescent, that represent a wide range of natural habitats and eco-geographical conditions. The Wild Cereal Gene Bank Collection harbors a rich genetic diversity that can serve as an important gene pool for crop improvement (e.g., yield, grain protein and mineral content, disease resistance, drought resistance, etc).

The University of Haifa’s GB support innovative genetic research that is focused on developing disease and drought resistant genotypes, and more nutritious grains, based on the genetic properties of Israel’s indigenous wild wheat and barley, which are the progenitors of modern wheat and barley. Developed and directed by a world-class team of scientists, the IOE will provide optimal research conditions and enable the Institute’s researchers and students to work closely with Israeli scientists and with the International cereal community, in the development of this field and its potentially transformative applications.

Our aim is to identify wild alleles of economically important traits in wild emmer wheat germplasm and use modern genomic technologies for genetic mapping and cloning of these important genes. Some of these genes are being introgressed into cultivars by marker assisted breeding or being used today for wheat improvement:

  • Disease resistance genes (e.g. yellow rust and powdery mildew).
  • Quantitative trait loci (QTLs) for drought resistance.
  • High grain protein and minerals gene.
  • Genes involved in wheat domestication evolution (e.g. yield).

The Wild Cereal Gene Bank research is led by:

Dr. Tamar Krugman, the curator of the wild cereals gene bank at IOE. The main research of Dr. Krugman is the study of drought stress response in plants. In particular, the identification of genes involved in drought in wild emmer wheat and wild barley by functional genomic technologies.

Prof. Tzion Fahima, the director of the Institute of Evolution, and head of wheat genomics and disease resistance laboratory. Prof. Fahima's main research is related to structural and functional genomics of biotic and abiotic stress tolerance, as well as domestication evolution studies, of the wild progenitors of cultivated cereals.

Prof. Abraham Korol, the head of Mathematical Genetics lab. His main research is related to population genetics and evolution of recombination, plant genomics domestication and evolution, genome mapping, genetics of quantitative traits, and bioinformatics. Prof. Korol expertise includes development of computational tools for genetic and physical mapping.

Wild emmer wheat, Triticum dicoccoides and experimental field at the university of Haifa


The IOE collections:

The plant facilities include a greenhouse with computerized control of climatic conditions (100 m²), three climatic chambers for maintaining the seed collections, a few growth chamfers, and a small experimental agricultural field at the University of Haifa campus(~ 1,000 m²).The IOE possesses large a collection of genetically and agronomically evaluated accession of old world plant species: (i) wild emmer wheat, Triticum dicoccoides (3,500 genotypes, 37 populations from Israel and Turkey); (ii) eleven species of Aegilops (2,800 genotypes from 137 populations in Israel, Turkey, and Russia); (iii) wild barley, Hordeum spontaneum (3,500 genotypes, 122 populations from Israel, Jordan, Turkey, and Iran); (iv) wild lettuce, Lactuca serriola, L. saligna and several other species (4,000 genotypes, 200 populations and 18 countries in Asia, Europe, and America); (v) wild oat, Avena sterilis (1,000 genotypes from 38 populations in Israel).

The Wild Lettuce Gene Bank collection (WLCB)

The WLGB is led by Dr. Alex Beharav, who is leading in the surveying, collecting, and Eco-geographical characterization of rare wild Lactuca spp., and has a proven record in such types of bio-statistical and population genetic analyses.

Current information on the genetic diversity of wild Lactuca germplasm is mostly based on gene bank accessions originating from Europe. Less attention has been paid to accessions from southwest Asia that is the center of diversity for wild lettuce species closely related to L. sativa. Extensive collection and studies of wild populations of Lactuca spp. using accessions originating from the center of diversity have started in IOE during recent years. These studies based mainly on new collections of L. serriola, L. aculeata, L. saligna, and L. georgica from Israel and Armenia, as well as a few accessions collected in past from Jordan, Turkey and addition countries. The objectives of the research are related to the collecting of the wild Lactuca species. Specifically, the study is devoted to morphological traits, taxonomic validation, identification of natural putative hybrids, and study of bolting control in L. georgica, genetic diversity, out-crossing rate, species definition, diseases resistance (meantime focused on Bremia lactucae) and chemical composition. For the last objective we have produced also a minor collections of: (1) other four wild lactuca spp. that are within the natural distribution region of Israel, but taxonomically far from the cultivated lettuce: L. orientalis, L. tuberosa, L. undulata, andL. viminea. (2) Two wild Cichorium (Compositae, tribe Cichorieae, a subclade Cichoriinae) species: C. pumilum and C. calvum.

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