A novel mechanism for increasing vegetative biomass and grain yield has been identified in wheat (Triticum aestivum). RNAi-mediated down-regulation of Glucan, Water-Dikinase (GWD), the primary enzyme required for starch phosphorylation, under the control of an endosperm-specific promoter, resulted in a decrease in starch phosphate content and an increase in grain size. Unexpectedly, consistent increases in vegetative biomass and grain yield were observed in subsequent generations. In lines where GWD expression was decreased, germination rate was slightly reduced. However, significant increases in vegetative growth from the two leaf stage were observed. In glasshouse pot trials, down-regulation of GWD led to a 29% increase in grain yield while in glasshouse tub trials simulating field row spacing and canopy development, GWD down-regulation resulted in a grain yield increase of 26%. The enhanced yield resulted from a combination of increases in seed weight, tiller number, spikelets per head and seed number per spike. In field trials, all vegetative phenotypes were reproduced with the exception of increased tiller number. The expression of the transgene and suppression of endogenous GWD RNA levels were demonstrated to be grain specific. In addition to the direct effects of GWD down-regulation, an increased level of α-amylase activity was present in the aleurone layer during grain maturation. These findings provide a potentially important novel mechanism to increase biomass and grain yield in crop improvement programmes.
© 2012 CSIRO. Plant Biotechnology Journal © 2012 Society for Experimental Biology, Association of Applied Biologists and Blackwell Publishing Ltd.