, Volume 140, Issue 3, pp 147-154

Relationship between grain yield and quality of durum wheats from different eras of breeding

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Abstract

High protein content and a ‘strong’ gluten are required in durum wheat (Triticum turgidum L. var. durum) to process semolina into a suitable final pasta product. The variation in grain protein content and quality realized through breeding and the concomitant variation in biomass production and partitioning have been analyzed by comparing in a 2-year field trial, four groups of cultivars released in different eras and areas of breeding. Three groups of cultivars represented the evolution of the Italian germplasm from the first landraces and genealogical selections (Group 1) to the cultivars constituted by crossing Mediterranean types with Syriacum types (Group 2), and the modern dwarf and semi-dwarf cultivars (Group 3). Group 4 was an ICARDA collection of breeding lines bred for adaptation to high altitudes. The measured traits included both biomass production and its partitioning to the grain, and total nitrogen uptake and its partitioning to the grain. Grain protein percentage, gluten content and gluten index were utilized as quality traits. Breeding resulted in an increased earliness, reduced height without significant decreases in total biomass, and improved partitioning. The concomitant total nitrogen uptake did not change, whereas the changed biomass partitioning caused a parallel change in nitrogen partitioning, with an increase in nitrogen harvest index from 0.41 to 0.59. The lower protein percentage in the grains of modern cultivars was therefore not due to a reduced nitrogen uptake, nor to a lower NHI or to less milligram of nitrogen per grain, but to the dilution effect caused by the heavier grains of modern cultivars. A notable increase in gluten index was observed in the modern cultivars, reflecting an improvement in the pasta-making quality of grain proteins.