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Harnessing landrace diversity empowers wheat breeding

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Harnessing genetic diversity in major staple crops through the development of new breeding capabilities is essential to ensure food security1. Here we examined the genetic and phenotypic diversity of the A.E. Watkins landrace collection2 of bread wheat (Triticum aestivum), a major global cereal, through whole-genome re-sequencing (827 Watkins landraces and 208 modern cultivars) and in-depth field evaluation spanning a decade. We discovered that modern cultivars are derived from just two of the seven ancestral groups of wheat and maintain very long-range haplotype integrity. The remaining five groups represent untapped genetic sources, providing access to landrace-specific alleles and haplotypes for breeding. Linkage disequilibrium (LD) based haplotypes and association genetics analyses link Watkins genomes to the thousands of high-resolution quantitative trait loci (QTL), and significant marker–trait associations identified. Using these structured germplasm, genotyping and informatics resources, we revealed many Watkins-unique beneficial haplotypes that can confer superior traits in modern wheat. Furthermore, we assessed the phenotypic effects of 44,338 Watkins-unique haplotypes, introgressed from 143 prioritised QTL in the context of modern cultivars, bridging the gap between landrace diversity and current breeding. This study establishes a framework for systematically utilising genetic diversity in crop improvement to achieve sustainable food security.

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Correspondence to Shifeng Cheng or Simon Griffiths.

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This file contains Supplementary notes 1 and 2; Supplementary Figures 1-11.

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Cheng, S., Feng, C., Wingen, L.U. et al. Harnessing landrace diversity empowers wheat breeding. Nature (2024).

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