Blue and Golden Harvest
As part of large USDA effort, MSU targets wheat's yield genes.
by Carol Flaherty
A nation-wide effort to identify important wheat genes places the responsibility for finding those genes associated with wheat yield in dryland conditions at Montana State University. MSU wheat breeder Luther Talbert is co-principal investigator of a $5-million, four-year grant from the USDA that coordinates a 25-state effort to identify markers associated with yield and other important traits. Working with industry representatives, the nation-wide team of breeders divided the work. The grant brings $403,000 over four years to MSU and will support a graduate student and several undergraduate work-study students.
To find the important genes, researchers will use molecular markers, which act like chemical flags of genes. Using markers greatly speeds incorporation of useful traits into new wheat varieties. For instance, Talbert pointed out that Montana breeders have developed molecular markers to assist with breeding for sawfly resistance and bread quality traits. The goal of the Montana group is to identify molecular markers for genes related to increased yield and quality in dryland wheat production.
When USDA announced the grant in Washington, D.C., Agriculture Secretary Mike Johanns said the research will help U.S. wheat breeders not only improve wheat yield, but also develop drought-resistant wheat and help the environment.
Researchers will work with USDA genotyping laboratories to provide analyses of thousands of molecular markers needed to insert 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 of genetic information and resources for wheat breeders and researchers nationwide.
The project includes an extensive outreach component to share information about these new technologies with the public and an educational program to attract new students to agriculture and train them in modern and traditional breeding techniques. MSU’s Jamie Sherman, an assistant research professor of plant sciences, is the project’s national education coordinator.
USDA’s Cooperative State Research, Education, and Extension Service administered the award through the National Research Initiative. It supports research, education and extension grants that address key problems of national, regional and multi-state importance in sustaining all components of agriculture.