By Pat Melgares
Kansas State University is among 19 groups that have joined forces to identify the genes that affect wheat yield.
The National Institute for Food and Agriculture has awarded $10 million to fund the Wheat Coordinated Agricultural Project, or Wheat CAP, with the hope of answering some of the key questions about which genes most directly impact wheat production in the U.S. and around the world.
“Once we identify these wheat genes, we can use them to characterize biological pathways that control wheat yield components,” said Eduard Akhunov, an associate professor of plant pathology and co-director of the Wheat CAP.
NIFA’s funds will be managed by the University of California at Davis, which will then coordinate work among 19 U.S. breeding programs.
“Our group will be developing genomic resources for wheat geneticists and breeders to move ahead with their individual projects,” Akhunov said, adding that Kansas State University is “uniquely qualified to use genome sequencing technologies to characterize wheat genome and identify factors involved in the regulation of gene expression.”
The genes identified for impacting wheat yield will be deposited into public databases and used in breeding programs nationwide, Akhunov said.
“The Kansas wheat breeding programs will not only benefit from identifying the gene that we have in our wheat breeding lines, but we can also get genetic material from other partners and use them in the development of improved varieties here in Kansas,” he said.
NIFA is funding this project through its International Wheat Yield Partnership program, which has a goal of increasing the genetic yield potential and production of wheat by 50 percent in the next two decades.
Kansas State University’s work, which begins in January, comes on the heels of another large project just completed at the university. Akhunov said his research team has been involved in recent years with the Triticeae Coordinated Agricultural Project – or TCAP – in which they developed the genetic resources and genomic tools necessary for studying the genetic basis of yield-related traits in wheat.
That project wrapped up in November.
“The work never stopped,” Akhunov said. “The project will slowly transition from the TCAP project to Wheat CAP. The objectives will be to use the resources developed at the previous stages toward this new challenge: identifying genes that control wheat yield components.”