Progenitor species hold untapped diversity for potential climate-responsive traits for use in wheat breeding and crop improvement
Climate change will have numerous impacts on crop production worldwide necessitating a broadening of the germplasm base required to source and incorporate novel traits. Major variation exists in crop progenitor species for seasonal adaptation, photosynthetic characteristics, and root system architecture. Wheat is crucial for securing future food and nutrition security and its evolutionary history and progenitor diversity offer opportunities to mine favourable functional variation in the primary gene pool. Here we provide a review of the status of characterisation of wheat progenitor variation and the potential to use this knowledge to inform the use of variation in other cereal crops. Although significant knowledge of progenitor variation has been generated, we make recommendations for further work required to systematically characterise underlying genetics and physiological mechanisms and propose steps for effective use in breeding. This will enable targeted exploitation of useful variation, supported by the growing portfolio of genomics and accelerated breeding approaches. The knowledge and approaches generated are also likely to be useful across wider crop improvement.