K-State researcher receives grant to mine wheat relatives for global food security

Published: Jun. 20, 2020 at 6:50 PM CDT
Email This Link
Share on Pinterest
Share on LinkedIn

Kansas State University says mining wheat’s wild side could be good for global food security.

A K-State wheat geneticist is receiving a nearly $1 million grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Institute through the Agriculture and Food Research Initiative, for two projects to improve genetic diversity of wheat says the University.

Jesse Poland, associate professor of plant pathology and director of the Wheat Genetics Resource Center Industry University Cooperative Research Center, says as the human population increases and climates become more variable, the lack of genetic diversity in modern wheat has the potential to compromise global food security.

Poland says he will use the grants to mine wheat wild relatives for genes that increase disease resistance, stress tolerance and yield potential while looking back into wheat’s family tree for solutions at two reservoirs of untapped genetic diversity: Aegilops speltoides and Triticum dicoccoides or Emmer.

"These new projects supported through the National Institute of Food and Agriculture are really building on decades of work and genetic resources assembled in the Wheat Genetics Resource Center," says Poland. "Through our current industry partnerships in the Industry-University Cooperative Research Center, we have further strengthened the value of the germplasm collection. K-State is a great place for this work to happen and be successful because we can directly connect the work on wild wheat with companies and breeders delivering the new germplasm to farmers."

K-State says the first project is a collaboration between the school, 2Blades Foundation, the University of Minnesota and the John Innes Center. The team will use the Wheat Genetics Resource Center collection of wild Emmer to rebuild the genome and identify genes providing resistance to stripe, leaf and stem rust, the three diseases that cause almost $3 billion in damage to global wheat crops.

According to the University the second collaboration will bring Bernd Friebe and Dal-Hoe Koo, K-State researcher sand Wheat Genetics Resource Center employees, together with Poland and Assaf Distelfeld of the University of Haifa in Israel to see genetic diversity of Ae. Speltoides, a relative of wheat with more diversity. The team’s work will characterize the collection of Ae. Speltoides and use the information found to identify genetic segments transferred into wheat with the goal of making better genetic markers for wheat breeders.

K-State says both projects will bridge resources and expertise throughout the world and the genetic resources developed through these partnerships will inform rapid development of improved wheat varieties.

"Overall, these projects really complement the ongoing work of the WGRC to provide robust genetic resources to breeders and see this novel genetic diversity transferred to breeding companies and delivered to farmers," says Poland. "With these exciting international partnerships we can move even faster."