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An interview with John Baison and Chris Burt

RAGT has supported the IWGSC since 2009. We are very grateful for their continuous support and are pleased to count this farmer-founded, innovative seed company as our sponsor. RAGT has been a strong voice for breeders within the IWGSC and for ensuring that the genomic resources we develop are immediately translatable to wheat breeding programs. It has been very important for the IWGSC to have companies, such as RAGT, involved in designing our goals, objectives, and strategies.

About RAGT

The RAGT Group has been supplying European farmers since 1919 and is one of Europe's leading seeds businesses with worldwide involvement in research, development, production and sales of seeds.

Fully committed to innovation, with a strong research activity of some 300 people across Europe, RAGT researches, produces and sells seeds including wheat, maize, sunflower, barley, oilseed rape, oats, forage grass and soil health crops. RAGT invests nearly 18% of its annual turnover in varietal innovation.

An interview with John Baison and Chris Burt


John Baison, RAGT representative in the IWGSC Coordinating Committee

Cereal Geneticist
RAGT Seeds, Ickleton, United Kingdom

John Baison is currently working as a cereal geneticist for RAGT Seeds Ltd. focusing on the implementation of genomic methods in cereal breeding programs, liaison with breeders and statisticians to ensure delivery of genotype data, and to co-ordinate molecular genetics and bioinformatics analyses. John currently holds a UKRI Future Leadership Fellowship, which has allowed RAGT to exploit the genomic and genetics tools that the IWGSC has developed. The research John is currently conducting is aimed at utilizing sequence data produced from the IWGSC exome capture probe set and using this data to develop molecular markers for the breeding program at RAGT.

In general, what are the benefits of participating in public-private research consortia?

Participating in such research consortia allows for the full utilization and sharing of expertise and experiences that might be lacking in either teams. Such collaborations also unlock new funding sources that allow for strategic research. Participating in such consortia also brings together infrastructural advantages, such as sequencing platforms that might otherwise be too expensive or inaccessible to individual organisations.

What have been the greatest benefits of RAGT’s partnership with the IWGSC?

Early access to genomic tools, such as the latest wheat assemblies, and the wheat exome capture panel from Arbor Biosciences.

The IWGSC wheat reference sequence (IWGSC RefSeq v1.0) has been available in advance of publication since 2016, what impact has it had on your breeding and trait discovery programs?

The ability to mine and develop markers for use within the breeding program. The genome has also enabled the analysis of our NGS data, which we are using to develop our targeted markers.

Chris Burt, IWGSC Board member


Cereal Genotyping Manager
RAGT Seeds, Ickleton, United Kingdom

Chris Burt provides the strategic lead for application of genotyping technologies across RAGT cereal breeding programs. In addition, he is responsible for trait discovery and SNP identification across the cereal species, including both internal research and extensive public-private partnerships. The research conducted within Chris Burt’s group translates from reference genomes and sequencing data in wheat through to molecular markers that are used to select for wheat varieties that are grown globally. He has been a member of the IWGSC Coordinating Committee since 2016 and became a member of the IWGSC Board of Directors in 2021.

In IWGSC phase 2.0, we are working on manual and functional annotation of the IWGSC reference sequence. What will this enable you to do in your applications?

The availability of a fully annotated genome helps us to pinpoint causative alleles and genes for traits of interest. Identification of these causal alleles and regions give us a powerful selection tool in our breeding programs.

In April 2021, RAGT and Bayer announced that they have entered an exclusive collaboration to jointly develop state-of-the-art hybrid wheat varieties. Can you talk a little about that?

We believe that both parties bring complementary expertise to this partnership. RAGT have inbred wheat breeding programs throughout Europe with germplasm highly adapted to these environments, whilst Bayer have expertise in hybrid systems and technologies as well as expertise in digital innovation. Resources from the IWGSC will be important in our efforts to develop hybrid wheat by enhancing our ability to track key traits and combine them into hybrid varieties.

What will be the impacts of these new hybrid wheat varieties on farmers, consumers and the wheat industry in general?

One of the major advantages of hybrid wheat is stability of yield across a range of climates and environments. We increasingly observe less predictable weather across Europe and this impacts on farmer’s ability to grow wheat reliably. This in turn can lead to supply issues for millers and bakers. In addition, hybrid wheat enables us to develop varieties with combinations of important agronomic traits that would be difficult to bring together in an inbred breeding system.

There is a growing need to increase the sustainability of agricultural production. What role do genomic tools and resources play in improving sustainability?

Genomic tools have already started to play a very important role in bringing to market the very first Barley yellow dwarf virus (BYDV) resistant winter wheat (RGT Wolverine) in Europe. This has led to a winter wheat that requires very light or no chemical control of BYDV in the field, thus leading to greener farming.

Is there anything that the IWGSC is not currently planning that you wish would be part of the strategic activities of the consortium?

The consortia might look to concentrate on producing more pseudomolecule level genome assemblies for modern breeding lines, which are relevant for our breeding programs.