Skip main navigation

New offer! Get 30% off one whole year of Unlimited learning. Subscribe for just £249.99 £174.99. New subscribers only. T&Cs apply

Find out more

Case study: engineering wheat of the future

Professor Cristobal Uauy explains how his cutting-edge research into wheat genetics can increase wheat yield and help to feed more people.

You’ve discovered what solutions are being used to protect crops from diseases and pests, including plant biotechnology. But what solutions are scientists working on that could help us grow more food in the future?

In this video, Cristobal Uauy from the John Innes Centre in Norwich in the UK talks about his work on using genetics to improve wheat yield.

Cereal crops (such as wheat) provide 70% of the world’s calorific needs. One of the reasons for this is because cereals are very good at producing a lot of energy per unit of land, compared to other plants or with animals. This means you can produce more food on a smaller area of land. Cereals also grow over a wide range of climates; for example, wheat, rice and maize are grown in every continent (except Antarctica).

On average, every single person around the world eats roughly 50 wheat plants per day. However, to ensure there is enough food for a growing global population we need to produce at least 50% more of all the major crops. But how do we do this in a sustainable way?

One solution is to use genetic techniques to create higher yielding, better quality and more disease-resistant wheat varieties. Cristobal and his team are already making breakthroughs in this area.

We would like to thank the John Innes Centre for providing us with the location to film this video.


Here are some of the key terms you’ll hear in the video:

Genomics: An area of biotechnology that studies the structure, function and editing of genomes – which broadly means all the genetic material making up an organism. Genetics, on the other hand, is the study of single genes.

Diploid: A diploid cell or organism has two paired sets of chromosomes, one from each parent. Nearly all mammals are diploid organisms.

Polyploid: A polyploid cell or organism has more than two paired sets of chromosomes. Wheat is an example of a polyploid. Polyploidy is common in plants.

To discuss

There are many challenges involved in bringing research into practice in the field. What are your thoughts on using genetics to improve wheat? What do you think the challenges are?

Let us know your thoughts in the comments section below. Here are a few questions to get you started:

  • Why is wheat an important crop to study the genetics of?
  • What impact would it have on farmers around the world if we could significantly increase wheat yield?
  • What are the challenges involved in increasing wheat yield?
  • Why is wheat more challenging than other types of plant?
  • What do you find most interesting about Cristobal’s work?
This article is from the free online

Improving Food Production with Agricultural Technology and Plant Biotechnology

Created by
FutureLearn - Learning For Life

Reach your personal and professional goals

Unlock access to hundreds of expert online courses and degrees from top universities and educators to gain accredited qualifications and professional CV-building certificates.

Join over 18 million learners to launch, switch or build upon your career, all at your own pace, across a wide range of topic areas.

Start Learning now