USDA Grant Funds Pest Control Research
Five universities will share a three-year, $1.9 million grant to study pest control methods, treatments and best management practices in wheat.
USDA’s Risk Avoidance and Mitigation Program awarded the grant to researchers at Colorado State University, Kansas State University, the University of Nebraska, Oklahoma State University and Texas A&M.
With part of the funding, researchers at the universities will work together to develop an Internet-based tool to support unified insect pest management. The "iWheat" program, to be unveiled in late 2012, will monitor wheat fields for key pests and evaluate the effectiveness and economic benefits of seed treatments for pests. The project is anticipated to be completed in December 2014.
The Kansas State University team will also develop a comprehensive website (www.iwheat.org) that can summarize, by geographic region, the occurrence, categorical abundance and identity of pest species and biotypes. This information-driven system will give crop professionals a tool to track changes at the field level.
Users of iWheat will be required to create a personalized account to which they can log in and see management recommendations based on status of pests, diseases and wheat biometric data and temperature.
Fungi Could Curb Grasshopper Populations
Every summer, farmers and ranchers in the western U.S. prepare for possible grass-hopper and Mormon cricket infestations. These pests can eat the equivalent of their body weight daily in vegetation, leaving less grass for livestock. They also eat crops, such as wheat, resulting in yield losses.
Beneficial fungi that could help manage grasshopper and cricket populations are being tested by USDA scientists and their university colleagues. Stefan Jaronski, an entomo-logist at USDA–Agricultural Research Service’s Northern Plains Agricultural Research Laboratory in Sidney, Mont., is working with university and USDA–Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service scientists to evaluate several fungi that could be used as alternative biocontrol agents against these hopping pests.
Jaronski and colleagues are currently evaluating three candidate fungi (Metarhizium robertsii DWR 346, M. robertsii DWR 356 and M. brunneum F52). The first two fungi were discovered through an exploratory program led by Utah State University professor Don Roberts. Field tests that began last summer in Montana, Wyoming and Utah will help determine if the fungi are suitable biocontrol agents.
The researchers are awaiting permission to conduct field tests on another fungus named M. acridum, commonly known as "Green Muscle." This product was developed by CABI, an international not-for-profit organization dedicated to solving agricultural and environmental problems, and it has been commercialized in Africa for locust control.
Give Up the Gluten
Most of us take eating a simple slice of bread or sandwich for granted. Yet there are millions of Americans with celiac disease who cannot tolerate the proteins that are found naturally in grains such as wheat, barley and rye.
Most gluten-free flours depend on rice or corn meal. Now scientists at Cibus Global, a San Diego,
Calif., biotech firm, say the gluten-intolerant may one day be able to put wheat back on their plate.
Peter Beetham, Cibus senior vice president of research, explains that the advanced mapping of plant genomes has allowed for a much better understanding of the structure and function of the genes that are responsible for producing the allergenic components that cause celiac disease.
Cibus is using a technology called the Rapid Trait Development System (RTDS) to repair the genes and develop new and useful traits in crops. RTDS does not require the incorporation of foreign, DNA-like, conventional transgenic genetically modified organisms. Instead, it modifies the targeted gene by utilizing the cell’s own gene repair system.
"We can now ‘mine’ these maps more effectively and focus our RTDS activities on the specific genes that are involved in many important traits," Beetham explains.
With the appropriate research and funding for development, Beetham believes Cibus could deliver a gluten-free wheat trait to farmers in the next five to seven years.
Bayer Bulks Up
Bayer may be best known worldwide for pain relief, but the company’s current focus has turned to wheat.
Peter Peerbolte, Bayer CropScience portfolio manager for cereals, says the company recently acquired the wheat breading programs of two Ukrainian breeding companies. "This gives us access to outstanding wheat lines with excellent winter hardiness and drought tolerance," he says.
In December, Bayer announced an agreement to work with the University of Nebraska–Lincoln (UNL) on wheat breeding with access to the university’s wheat germplasm. The company intends to establish its first wheat breeding station near Lincoln; support wheat research and education programs at UNL; and work with Nebraska farmers on seed production activities.
In a separate agreement, Bayer has established a five-year wheat collaboration with Evogene Ltd., an Israeli plant genomics company, to focus on yield, drought tolerance and fertilizer utilization characteristics.
Peerbolte says wheat is a strategic crop for Bayer CropScience. "Globally, wheat enjoys the largest market share in crop protection," he notes. "Obviously, we want to protect that market and we think the best way to do it is by becoming involved in seeds and traits.
"Bayer already has a nice footprint in seeds and traits in cotton, canola and rice," he adds. "We are using those same business models to exchange germplasm and traits on a global scale."
Growers can expect to see further news in the wheat arena during first quarter 2011.
Monsanto Advances High-Yielding Wheat Projects
The first taste of traits from Monsanto Company’s renewed interest in wheat has entered the pipeline. The company is developing high-yielding wheat that better withstands stress in collaboration with Germany-based BASF Plant Science. The first-generation product is stacked with herbicide tolerance.
Monsanto and BASF initially teamed up in 2007 to develop traits in corn, soybeans, cotton and canola. The collaboration was expanded in 2010 to include wheat as well.
Steve Padgette, Monsanto vice president of biotechnology, says the first wheat-trait transformations were quickly created in the lab, leveraged by genes identified in other crops. In 2010, plants withdicamba- and glufosinate-tolerant genes demon-strated good tolerance in greenhouse studies. These success stories encouraged the company to move both wheat projects from discovery into the first phase of research and development.
Monsanto exited the wheat business in 2004 after an effort to commercialize Roundup Ready technology in the crop. Re-entry came in 2009 when it acquired the assets of WestBred, a Montana-based company specializing in wheat germplasm across all classes.