Norwich scientists have called for urgent investment in new research tools to help them tackle global losses of wheat crops costing £22bn per year.

The John Innes Centre, based on the Norwich Research Park, has urged governments around the world to fund an international research platform to reduce the impact of crop pests and diseases and to improve global food security.

The proposed "R-Gene Atlas" would be a free online portal containing genetic data on wheat and its wild relatives, which could help plant breeders identify new sources of disease resistance which could then be bred into commercial varieties for farmers to grow.

Globally, it is estimated that one fifth of the projected wheat yield is lost annually totalling 209m tonnes, valued at £22bn - an issue exacerbated by climate change and population growth.

The aim is to provide "long-lasting molecular protection" against major wheat diseases including wheat rusts, blotch diseases, powdery mildew, and wheat blast.

The researchers calculate it would cost £41m to establish the new platform, including funding 75 scientists across the world to carry out the work. This, they suggest, could be funded with £2m contributions from each G20 country, spread over five years.

“Compared to the scale of the problem in yield losses to pests and pathogens, this represents excellent value for money," said JIC researcher Amber Hafeez, first author of an article detailing the proposals in science journal Molecular Plant.

She added: "It is unsustainable to continue feeding 20pc of our wheat production to pathogens."

JIC group leader Dr Brande Wulff said an international consortium was needed to allow the project to draw upon existing expertise and resources.

“A lot of the pieces of the puzzle already exist, the idea is to bring them together to make sure we don't duplicate efforts," he said.

“Current projections suggest there will be 2.1bn more people to feed by 2050 and developing disease-resistant crops will be a key part of sustainably feeding us all.

"We’re determined to develop new ways to increase our genetic understanding and deploy it for the benefit of sustainable agriculture, but we cannot do this without investment.

“We are urging the G20 governments to invest in the consortium, which will bring disease resistance genes from lab to field at a scale and speed needed to deal with the current crisis.”