The 2012–13 winter wheat crop depends on replenishing levels of winter moisture to counteract drought conditions through much of the Wheat Belt this past year.
by Nate Birt & Ben Potter
A bright future, but short-term market, weather worries remain
In terms of research dollars and effort, wheat tends to take a backseat to the corn and soybean crops. But two recent research and development efforts hope to change that.
First, a multinational group of scientists took the once hopelessly complex wheat genome, which has 17 billion separate DNA bases, and finally built a workable genome map.
"Essentially, we put together the world’s largest jigsaw puzzle," says Shahryar Kianian, North Dakota State University professor of plant sciences and one of the project’s collaborators.
"I hope wheat producers have wrapped their mind around early pricing opportunities for 2013 delivery"
The next lesson. Another collaborator, Bikram Gill, distinguished professor of plant pathology and director of the Wheat Genetics Resource Center (WGRC) at Kansas State University, says the next step is to develop a "gold standard sequence" for wheat. Scientists will anchor the complete sequence to a genetic map of agronomic traits important to the wheat industry.
Researchers at WGRC and elsewhere are also studying wheat’s polyploid properties, which could lead to breakthroughs in other food crops.
"Polyploidy has provided the evolutionary novelty that made wheat the world’s most important crop, but at the same time it made the genome more complex and a hard nut to crack," Gill says.
Gill says his focus is still on the true prize: the gold standard sequencing. Fortunately, the genome sequencing success has proved itself a catalyst for generating additional research and development interest for wheat.
Collaboration at its best. In November, representatives from 16 countries and international organizations agreed to launch an initiative to increase wheat’s genetic yield potential by 50% in the next 20 years. The initiative, the Wheat Yield Network (WYN), will be bolstered by a $50 million to $75 million investment from the project’s partners during the next five years.
The network will bring together governmental and nongovernmental entities to support basic and applied wheat research. A key focus of WYN will be to look at ways to boost wheat yields through improvements to the plant’s fundamental processes, including photosynthesis.
"The Wheat Yield Network will aim to improve the yield potential of wheat by improving the physiology of the wheat plant itself, then combining those improvements with all other breeding objectives across governments and institutions," says David Marshall, the acting national program leader for USDA’s Agricultural Research Service and the U.S. government representative to WYN.
- February 2013