See the ‘slug-resistant’ wheat

Wheat believed to be resistant to slugs will be one of the star attractions at the Breeders’ Day at the John Innes Centre on Tuesday 21 June 2022.

BOFIN members have been invited to attend the event and a select few will get the opportunity to put this wheat to the test in a ground-breaking trial this autumn.

The wheat is one the Watkins Collection of landrace wheats currently being screened for interesting traits by scientists working on the Defra-funded Wheat Genetic Improvement Network (WGIN) programme.

A set of choice chambers was used that allows slugs to choose at random varieties they would like to graze and those they prefer to avoid. Researchers found there was one wheat that stood out as consistently spurned – Watkins 788.

“We don’t know yet whether this wheat truly resists slugs or whether they’d still eat it in a field situation where there’s no other choice,” explains Prof Simon Griffiths of John Innes Centre who leads the research.

Could landrace wheat Watkins 788 be resistant to slugs?

The concept was put to BOFIN members in 2020 and considerable interest came back in conducting trials of 0.4ha plots of the wheat – the area required to provide the optimal foraging distance to study the slugs’ behaviour.

“On the strength of this initial interest, we’ve spent the last two years multiplying up enough seed, and we’re now ready to go,” say Simon. The trial will start this autumn, closely monitored by JIC entomologists.

Only BOFIN members will be able to take part in the trial. Fields with a history of slug activity are sought, preferably following a crop (such as oilseed rape) that will promote slug activity.

As a landrace variety, Watkins 788 will not be an easy wheat to grow – it will be prone to lodging, susceptible to disease, and will not yield well. But following the monitoring, it will be important to bring the crop to yield with viable, clean seed as very little of the line currently exists.

“If the wheat truly resists slugs this will be a very valuable trait to pinpoint and bring into UK breeding programmes,” says Simon.

“Long term funding from Defra and Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC) have given us the tools we need to identify the genetic basis of valuable pest resistance such as this.”

There’s currently about 0.5ha of the ‘slug-resistant’ wheat growing at John Innes Centre and BOFIN members have been invited to the Breeders’ Day on Tuesday 21 June to view it.

The plan is to have a ‘huddle’ next to the plot with Simon and other members of the research team to get an insight into Watkins 788 and the work they’re doing.

Any BOFIN member interested in taking part in the trial should contact They are also strongly recommended to attend the Breeders Day. To register, click the button below:

BOFIN is free to join and there’s no obligation. Join here.

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