Improving winter malting barley quality and developing an understanding of the interactions of introgressions with genetic background (IMPROMALT)


The IMPROMALT project aimed to improve the malting quality of winter barley in the UK. It utilised information from a genetic analysis of barley data from National List (NL) and AHDB Recommended List (RL) trials. The focus was the targeted backcrossing of three regions of the genome from elite spring barley into winter barley to improve malt extract level in the winter crop. The work built on a BBSRC SA LINK project, with AHDB funding, entitled ‘Association Genetics of UK Elite Barley (AGOUEB)’ that concluded in 2014.

The project involved a large consortium, including the James Hutton Institute (JHI) and NIAB, as academic partners, the AHDB, MAGB, SWRI and six UK breeding companies (KWS-UK, Limagrain, Syngenta, Secobra, RAGT and Ackermanns) as commercial partners. The project had six objectives, with the first being to extend the analysis of AGOUEB, which underpinned all the other objectives that were dependent upon AHDB support.

The project succeeded in its major aims. The AHDB-supported objective 1 exceeded the aims and increased the number of barley varieties studied by 20%. A change in the genotyping platform, designed by JHI, enabled the project to derive five times as much genotype data than anticipated. These data elucidated the genetic relationships between barley varieties that corresponded well to known pedigrees and varietal differences. These data were combined with the results of NL and RL trials (1988–2016) to carry out genome-wide association studies (GWAS) to correlate the detailed genetic fingerprint of the variety with its performance in the field. These studies highlighted several regions of the barley genome that are important in the genetic control of traits of agronomic and economic importance. For malting quality, associations were found. GWAS identified 24 independent regions in 13 malting traits in spring barley and 2 associations in 2 traits in winter barley. Importantly, the study confirmed the importance of the target regions in the malting quality backcrossing programme and helped to better delineate candidate genes in the target region on the top of chromosome 3H. Interestingly, the analyses suggested that most of the genomic regions associated with malting quality were moving to fixation or had been fixed in the most recent spring varieties, but more variation remained in the winter crop. The backcrossing programme succeeded in improving malting quality in the winter crop. This material has now been utilised within breeding programmes.

Ultimately, this project will help to improve the malting quality of UK winter barley varieties in the short-to-medium term. It will provide more choice to UK farmers and barley end-user. In particular, the earlier harvest of the winter crop may help bring resilience in the face of potential climate change scenarios.

Theoretical and Applied Genetics 2020 research paper

Association mapping of malting quality traits in UK spring and winter barley cultivar collections

Cereals & Oilseeds
Project code:
01 April 2013 - 20 October 2020
AHDB sector cost:
Total project value:
Project leader:
James Hutton Institute


PR626 final project report PR626 final project summary