Virginia Tech helping to develop higher quality, disease-resistant wheat varieties

Researchers at Virginia Tech's College of Agriculture and Life Sciences are part of consortium of public wheat breeders and scientists that have been awarded $5 million from the USDA to enable routine use of modern breeding technologies to produce higher quality, disease-resistant wheat.

"For the past two decades, an intensive amount of molecular research has been conducted wherein chromosome specific DNA sequences or markers have been used to identify genes controlling traits of economic importance in wheat varieties. This integrated project will enable us to demonstrate that DNA markers associated with such traits can be used on a routine basis to develop superior wheat varieties," said Carl Griffey, professor of crop and soil environmental sciences at Virginia Tech and consortium project coordinator for the Mid-Atlantic region. "These technologies will accelerate development of U.S. varieties that are durable to plant diseases, more productive, and of better end use quality, which are all essential for increasing competitiveness of U.S. wheat in global markets."

Griffey, along with other researchers from Virginia, Kentucky, Maryland, and North Carolina, will be specifically looking at wheat traits of critical importance in the Mid-Atlantic region where diseases such as powdery mildew, leaf rust, stripe rust, and fusarium head blight result in significant losses in yield and quality each year. For example, researchers will be identifying and using DNA markers to select varieties possessing genes conferring durable resistant to powdery mildew, which causes annual crop loss of 10 to 30 percent in the Mid-Atlantic region. Researchers also will be identifying genes that confer superior milling and baking qualities.

The new technology implemented in this project is called Marker Assisted Selection (MAS). MAS involves the direct use of molecular markers that are located in the same chromosome region as the trait of interest to select for genes controlling useful agronomic traits. Breeders use these molecular markers to increase the precision in selection of varieties having the best trait combinations.

Researchers will work with USDA genotyping laboratories to provide thousands of molecular analyses required to deploy the targeted genes into breeding lines. The genetic information will be stored in national databases and seed stocks deposited in USDA's Small Grain Collection, providing long-term public access to genetic information and resources for wheat breeders and researchers nationwide.

Public sector researchers are primarily responsible for providing new wheat varieties to U.S. wheat growers. Public wheat varieties accounted for 78 percent of the 2001-2003 wheat production in the U.S. which represents an average of 38 million metric tons per year valued at more than $5 billion.

This project includes an extensive outreach component to share information about these new technologies with growers and end-users and an educational program to attract new students to agriculture and train them in modern and traditional breeding techniques.

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USDA's Cooperative State Research, Education, and Extension Service (CSREES) administered the award through the National Research Initiative (NRI). The NRI is the largest peer reviewed, competitive grants program in CSREES. It supports research, education and extension grants that address key problems of national, regional and multi-state importance in sustaining all components of agriculture.

Ranked 11th in agricultural research expenditures by the National Science Foundation, Virginia Tech's College of Agriculture and Life Sciences offers students the opportunity to learn from some of the world's leading agricultural scientists. The college's comprehensive curriculum gives students a balanced education that ranges from food and fiber production to economics to human health. The college is a national leader in incorporating technology, biotechnology, computer applications, and other recent scientific advances into its teaching program.


Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 21 Feb 2009
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