Perennial wheat, or xTritipyrum?

by Luigi Guarino on January 31, 2017

A few days ago we posted in Brainfood a link to the paper “Toward a taxonomic definition of perennial wheat: a new species ×Tritipyrum aaseae described,” together with the comment that it wasn’t clear to us why naming a new species was necessary. Colin Curwen-McAdams, one of the authors, has now enlightened us, by email.

As one of the authors of the paper mentioned today, “Toward a taxonomic definition of perennial wheat: a new species xTritipyrum aaseae described,” I thought I might respond to the comment about why it is necessary to name this combination as a new species. People have been trying to develop perennial grain crops through hybridization of wheat and its wild relatives for nearly 100 years, but no one has taken the time to recognize the combinations through nomenclature. These combinations are stable and contain genomes from both parents and so are no longer either wheat or wheatgrass. Scientific names allow researchers to communicate, literature to be organized and help structure our thinking about the relationships among living things. Names are also important in this case because the goal is development of a new crop type which requires specific and colloquial ways of referring to it. Triticale (xTriticosecale) is a corollary example, a hybrid of wheat and rye combining genomes from both that now exists as a new crop. The aim of the paper was to outline how having a name might aid in developing these new crops through hybridization, and move thinking away from ‘perennial wheat’ and towards xTritipyrum, an undefined crop full of potential. Thank you for recognizing our work, always happy to discuss further, all the best, Colin.

Many thanks, Colin. Is not a possible counter-argument that such a move is somewhat premature (xTritipyrum is not yet an established crops), and might discourage other groups from making further crosses between the two parents?

{ 5 comments… read them below or add one }

Colin Curwen-McAdams January 31, 2017 at 5:44 pm

It is an interesting question, I think what gives most people pause is that these hybrids were created through cross-pollination and human effort. If these stable partial amphiploids (having genomes from both parents) were discovered in the wild there would be no question that they deserved a name. People have been working with hybrids of Triticum and Thinopyrum species for nearly 100 years, including Dr. Hannah Aase who the new species is named for. Without a proper binomial for categorization, much of the material has been lost. The larger question of when something exists as a separate species will probably stimulate debate among taxonomists forever, but there are specific rules about names. In this case, we felt that having a name would facilitate communication among researchers and accessioning in genebanks. The name does not define or restrict the development of new hybrids, or crops that might be developed from them, it just allows that material to be referenced.

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Luigi Guarino January 31, 2017 at 6:06 pm

Thanks, Colin. But I’m not sure you can blame loss of germplasm on lack of a binomial. Plenty of well named material has been lost in genebanks, and plenty of unnamed material survives, alas.

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not me February 2, 2017 at 3:05 am

So just a new name for an old crop?

Anything to get a publication . . .

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Matthew Dillon February 10, 2017 at 7:48 pm

Oh cynical trolls hiding behind anonymous names…anything to get a rise? Someone’s mum didn’t give them enough attention? How about pose the question openly as a discussion item instead of casting mud? Is your identity really that important (I mean, this is a crop diversity geek site…not even Luigi is THAT important).

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Luigi Guarino February 14, 2017 at 5:32 pm

Not nearly THAT important. And yes, it’s a bit silly to hide behind anonymity on such a topic.

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